NASA launches breakthrough satellite to study climate change

The shoebox-sized satellite, part of the Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment (PREFIRE) mission, was successfully deployed into orbit on Saturday at 4:35 a.m. ET. It hitched a ride aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket, which lifted off from the company’s launch complex in Mahia, New Zealand.

| Updated: 27 May, 2024 3:52 pm IST

NEW DELHI: NASA has taken a significant step towards enhancing our understanding of the Earth’s climate system by launching the first of two research satellites designed to measure heat loss from the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

The shoebox-sized satellite, part of the Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment (PREFIRE) mission, was successfully deployed into orbit on Saturday at 4:35 a.m. ET. It hitched a ride aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket, which lifted off from the company’s launch complex in Mahia, New Zealand.

The PREFIRE mission aims to gather unprecedented data on how water vapor, clouds, and other atmospheric elements trap heat and prevent it from radiating into space. This data will be crucial for improving climate models and enabling better predictions of the climate crisis’s impact on sea levels, weather patterns, and snow and ice cover.

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Earth absorbs a significant amount of energy from the sun in the tropical regions, which is then redistributed towards the poles through weather systems and ocean currents. Much of this heat energy is in the far-infrared wavelengths, a spectrum that has never been systematically measured before, according to NASA.

PREFIRE consists of two CubeSats, small satellite units, equipped with specialized miniature heat sensors. The launch date for the second satellite will be announced shortly after the successful deployment of the first one.

Once both satellites are in orbit, they will occupy asynchronous near-polar orbits, passing over the same area within hours of each other. This strategic positioning will allow the satellites to collect data on short-term phenomena, such as how cloud cover affects the temperature on the Earth’s surface beneath it.

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By gathering this crucial data, PREFIRE aims to fill a significant gap in our understanding of the Earth’s energy budget and help scientists better comprehend the intricate processes that govern our planet’s climate.

As the climate crisis continues to unfold, missions like PREFIRE underscore NASA’s commitment to advancing scientific knowledge and providing policymakers with the information necessary to make informed decisions about mitigating and adapting to the effects of global warming.

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