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SpaceX Launches NASA’s PACE Mission

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched NASA’s newest Earth-observation satellite, the PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem) mission.

The rocket lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Thursday, February 8, at 1:33 a.m. EST.

Approximately 13 minutes after launch, the spacecraft successfully separated from the launch vehicle.

The PACE mission has a big goal: to monitor the health of our planet in the face of climate change. PACE will collect extensive data, ranging from high-altitude cloud cover to the depths of the ocean.

Throughout its three-year operating life, the satellite will study the interactions of the ocean, clouds, and aerosols to enhance our understanding of these dynamic processes.

This 10-foot-tall satellite will orbit Earth at a height of 676.5 kilometers with an inclination of 98°. And will complete on Earth orbit in every 98.3 minutes. For comparison, the International Space Station orbits at a height of approximately 402 kilometers.

Monitoring Earth’s ocean and atmosphere

According to NASA, the PACE mission will provide important insights into Earth’s ocean and atmosphere. It will accomplish this by measuring key factors such as cloud coverage, airborne particles and pollutants, and tiny marine life.

Among the set science goals, the satellite will gather information on the mechanisms involved in oceanic carbon dioxide exchange. Additionally, it will unveil the potential role of aerosols in stimulating phytoplankton growth at the ocean’s surface.

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Aerosols are small airborne particles that absorb and reflect sunlight, while phytoplankton are microscopic sea algae.

These measurements will also give information on the effects of climate change.

For example, PACE will investigate the effects of climate change on the growth of marine phytoplankton. Furthermore, it will help us understand how airborne particles like dust and smoke impact cloud formation and contribute to the planet’s warming and cooling processes.

High-tech instruments equipped on spacecraft

​​The Ocean Color Instrument (OCI) serves as the primary scientific tool for the PACE mission. It is a sophisticated optical spectrometer designed to evaluate light characteristics across particular portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The instrument possesses the capability to measure ocean color across a range extending from ultraviolet to shortwave infrared wavelengths.

The measurement of ocean color results from the interaction of sunlight with substances or particles found in seawater, including chlorophyll. Chlorophyll, a green pigment prevalent in numerous phytoplankton species, plays a significant role in this process.

The distribution of phytoplankton could help assess ocean health.

The assessment of global ocean color will help scientists better understand the carbon cycle and how ocean ecosystems respond to changing climate.

PACE also has two high-tech polarimeters (the SPEXone and HARP2) that measure how sunlight’s polarization changes as it passes through clouds, aerosols, and the ocean.

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Moreover, the satellite will also provide key data on the air quality and other atmospheric parameters.

Source: IE

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