How to watch the Earth-observing NASA satellites blast off

How to watch the Earth-observing NASA satellites blast off

"The GRACE-FO satellites will be deployed approximately eleven minutes and thirty seconds after launch, followed by the deployment of five Iridium NEXT satellites beginning about an hour after launch", SpaceX says, making it sound oh so easy.

While SpaceX has previously recovered and reused the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage, the company won't be recycling that piece of equipment from this launch.

The rocket, which was carrying five communications satellites for Iridium and two research satellites for NASA, lifted off at 12:47 p.m.

The Earth-observing satellites aboard this Falcon 9 mission, GRACE-FO (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On), are a joint project between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences.

Meanwhile the SpaceX second-stage booster will fire until 11 minutes and 33 seconds into the flight, when NASA's GRACE-FO spacecraft will be deployed.

The mission picks up from GRACE, a satellite pair that launched in 2002 and tracked, among other things, precisely how much ice was lost each year in Greenland and Antarctica until 2017.

SpaceX's recovery ship, Mr Steven is heading out into the ocean to attempt to catch at least one half of the expensive shell used to protect spacecraft during the early phases of launch. Then the lower, leading satellite will be raised into the same orbit as the higher, trailing satellite.

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This first-stage booster has flown once before, a little more than four months ago when it launched the Zuma mission for the USA government-a satellite or spacecraft that was apparently lost in space after it failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. This launch makes the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation a conglomeration of 75 satellites (nine of which are spares).

GRACE-FO similarly consists of twin satellites, orbiting 220km (137 miles) apart at an altitude of 490km (304 miles). They'll measure the distribution of the Earth's mass and can monitor changes in ice sheets, glaciers and sea level, according to NASA.

These variations in distance will be constantly recorded by the spacecraft, because each shift signals a change in mass on the planet underneath.

Scientists are keen to keep collecting this data even after the original 15 years of GRACE.

The first-ever SpaceX launch from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex-4 occurred on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013.

The GRACE-FO satellites were assembled by Airbus Defence and Space in Germany.

"GRACE was really a revolutionary mission for us understanding the water cycle and how the climate behaves", said Frank Webb, GRACE-FO project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a pre-launch briefing May 21.

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