This Week, SpaceX Set to Launch NASA’s PACE Satellite for Ocean Monitoring

NASA’s Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite is set to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The launch, which can be witnessed live via NASA’s official channels, is scheduled for 1:33 a.m. EST on 6th February. The PACE spacecraft will be deployed into an orbit 420 miles above the Earth, around 70% higher than the orbit of the International Space Station.

The PACE satellite is equipped with three scientific instruments that will collect data on clouds, aerosols, and phytoplankton growth. This information can be used to determine the color of the ocean. By measuring the color and the amount of light, scientists can gain insights into the types and locations of microscopic algae, which are crucial for the health of the Earth’s oceans and marine life. The mission is expected to extend NASA’s two-decade-long global satellite observations of ocean biology and critical measurements related to climate and air quality.

The spacecraft, which measures 10.5 feet in length, will carry out its mission for a minimum of three years, assuming all goes as planned. However, the journey to the launch pad has not been smooth for PACE. The mission faced cancellation threats three times under the Trump administration’s budget proposals for fiscal years 2018, 2019, and 2020. Nevertheless, PACE was spared each time due to Congress’s allocation of necessary funds.

Originally, in 2014, NASA had estimated the total cost of the PACE mission, including the launch vehicle, at $805 million, with a target launch date set for 2022. However, the budget has since increased to $948 million. This launch is part of a busy year for SpaceX, which has already carried out 10 orbital missions in January, a single-month record. The company plans to launch a total of 144 missions in 2024, further ramping up its impressive pace.

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