SpaceX has successfully launched the twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites. NASA has confirmed that they have acquired signals from both satellites and that they were performing as expected.
The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Grace-Follow On (GRACE-FO) satellites launched from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 19:47 GMT (12:47 PDT) on Tuesday 22 May. Following the launch, the GRACE-FO was deployed successfully from the top of the rocket’s upper-stage stack.
The GRACE-FO satellites are a joint initiative between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ). The satellites will monitor the movement of mass around Earth using the planet’s gravitational pull.
To do this, the GRACE-FO satellites will measure slight variances in the distance between each other as they orbit the Earth at around 220 kilometers (137 miles) apart. Different intensities of gravitational pull from Earth will cause that initial distance to either shrink or grow. Researchers can use that data to accurately plot a baseline of how mass is distributed around the planet and then track how it shifts over time.
“GRACE-FO will provide unique insights into how our complex planet operates,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
In addition to NASA’s Grace-Follow On satellites, Tuesday’s launch also deployed five Iridium NEXT communications satellites. Iridium has worked closely with SpaceX to deploy 55 individual satellites to date for their $3 billion network upgrade. An additional 20 Iridium NEXT satellites will be launched aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets in the coming months.
“With every successful launch, we are one step closer to Iridium NEXT being fully operational, which officially starts a new age of satellite connectivity,” said Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium in a press release following the launch.
Featured image credit: SpaceX