WASHINGTON — A nearly $1 billion mission to study Earth's oceans and atmosphere is ready for launch after surviving several cancellation attempts earlier in its development.
The Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off from the Space Launch Complex at Cape Canaveral on February 40, 6 at 1:33 a.m. ET. The spacecraft will put NASA's plankton, aerosol, cloud, and ocean ecosystem, or PACE, into a sun-synchronous orbit.
PACE carries three instruments designed to study the oceans as well as clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere. The Ocean Color Instrument (OCI), the main tool, will provide information on ocean color from ultraviolet to infrared wavelengths. It is accompanied by the Hyper Angular Research Polarimeter (HARP2) and the Spectroscopic Planetary Exploration Polarimeter (SPEXone), which will provide data on atmospheric clouds and aerosols as well as support atmospheric correction of the OCI data.
“PACE will profoundly advance our understanding of how our oceans work and how they relate to the broader Earth system and changing climate,” Karen St. Germain, director of NASA's Earth Sciences Division, said at a February 4 press conference. About the task.
The main focus of PACE will be the study of phytoplankton found on the ocean surface. This includes the ability to distinguish between species of phytoplankton, said Jeremy Werdel, PACE project scientist. “Now we will know where the bad people are, where the good people are, and where the good people are moving to.”
Scientists will supplement PACE data with those from other Earth science missions, such as the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft. “SWOT analysis tells us more about how the ocean is moving, including sea surface rise. PACE will give us information about what lives in those surface oceans,” said Kate Calvin, NASA chief scientist and senior climate advisor.
Data from PACE will also help track different types of aerosols in the atmosphere, such as sea spray, smoke and desert dust. This is useful for monitoring air quality and its effects on human health, interactions between the atmosphere and the ecosystem, and cloud formation. “It's very dynamic, and space is the only way you can do it,” said Andy Sayer, an atmospheric scientist at PACE.
PACE has a design life of three years, but Saint-Germain said NASA expects the mission to last longer, with enough consumables such as propellant in the 1,700-kilogram spacecraft to operate for at least a decade. “We hope for a long and beautiful life for PACE.”
Once launched, PACE will go through an operational period expected to last 60 days, Werdell said in an earlier press conference on Jan. 17, with “first light” data released about 40 to 50 days later. All data from PACE will be publicly available without a period of exclusivity to the mission science team.
PACE, with a total cost that includes $964 million in reserves, became the target of budget cuts earlier in its development by the Trump administration. All four NASA budget proposals, for fiscal years 2018 through 2021, sought to eliminate PACE. Congress rejected the reduction four times and restored funding for the mission.
“It's been a long, strange journey,” Werdel said in a press conference on February 4 when asked about the proposed cancellations. “We were as confident as we could be that we would find ways to persevere. The community wanted all of this.”
“One of the reasons we are meeting here today is because there are many of our stakeholders who understood the potential impact of PACE and supported us moving forward,” St. Germain said.
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