The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite launched into Earth orbit on Friday, December 16, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in central California, and engineers are working to prepare the mission to begin measuring the height of water on over 90 percent of Earth’s surface, providing a high-definition survey of our planet’s water for the first time.
The SWOT satellite unfolds its solar panels
But before it can do that, the satellite would need to unfold its large mast and antenna panels (see above) after successfully deploying the solar panel arrays that power the spacecraft. The mission monitors and controls the satellite using telemetry data, but it also equips the spacecraft with four customized commercial cameras to record the action. The solar arrays were fully deployed shortly after launch, taking about 10 minutes.
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The antennas were successfully deployed over four days, a process completed on December 22. The two cameras focused on the KaRIn antennas captured the mast extending out from the spacecraft and locking in place, but stopped short of capturing the antennas being fully deployed (a milestone the team confirmed with telemetry data.)
Thirty-three feet (10 meters) apart, at either end of the mast, the two antennas belong to the groundbreaking Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) instrument. Designed to capture precise measurements of the height of water in Earth’s freshwater bodies and the ocean, KaRIn will see eddies, currents, and other ocean features less than 13 miles (20 kilometers) across.
It will also collect data on lakes and reservoirs larger than 15 acres (62,500 square meters) and rivers wider than 330 feet (100 meters) across. KaRIn will do this by bouncing radar pulses off the surface of the water on Earth and receiving the signals with both antennas, collecting data along a swath that’s 30 miles (50 kilometers) wide on either side of the satellite.
The data SWOT will help researchers and decision-makers address some of our most pressing climate questions and help communities prepare for a warming world.
Provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]