SpaceX day time launch

SpaceX rockets are still on the ground 3+ months after a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on a launchpad at Cape Canaveral. But the company’s most important customer isn’t worried. When it came time to select a party to launch its Global Surface Water Survey Mission, NASA turned to a familiar face. SpaceX will handle launch services for NASA’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission or SWOT.

The total value of the contract comes to $112 million and covers launch service and satellite support. SWOT’s launch is being targeted for April 2021 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This launch won’t be at Cape Canaveral, though. It’ll be at another common launch site. Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

What is SWOT?

Here’s what $112 million gets you. The first ever global survey of Earth’s surface water. Every three weeks, SWOT’s Ka-band Radar Interferometer will sweep across 90% of the globe gathering detailed measurements of how water changes over time.

SWOT instruments

Instruments on either side of the satellite will cover a 120 km wide swath.

It will keep constant tabs on everything from rivers and reservoirs to the world’s oceans.

NASA’s satellite will aid local governments across the world on freshwater management. SWOT can also help with decisions surrounding hydroelectric power by giving the relevant authorities valuable info on river systems around dams.

Ocean circulation models will improve thanks to new data sets. Even weather and climate predictions will get a boost from what SWOT sees.

France’s space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), will assist NASA in managing the spacecraft during its 3-year mission.

A vote of confidence for SpaceX

NASA awarding this contract to SpaceX shows the relationship between the pair remains strong after September’s explosion. SpaceX has proven a valuable partner to NASA with scores of successful resupply missions to the International Space Station.

This partnership is only growing with this latest contract. SpaceX continues to be contracted for ISS resupply missions and is one of two companies (the other one is Boeing) tapped to transport astronauts to the ISS.

In the meantime, SpaceX rockets are still sitting on the ground. The company’s famous founder, Elon Musk, says they are targeting a return to flight in mid-December.

So what happened in September? Musk told CNBC earlier this month, “it basically involves liquid helium, advanced carbon fiber composites, and solid oxygen. Oxygen so cold that it actually enters solid phase.” Solid oxygen isn’t supposed to happen. Details on the exact cause of this weren’t released, but Musk says they are improving its helium loading processes so it doesn’t happen again.

It looks like NASA is satisfied if they’re giving them more contracts. Look for Falcon 9 rockets to start thundering back into the sky soon. I’ll keep you posted once I hear about an official launch date.


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