SpaceX Launches Ocean Observation Satellite

SpaceX has successfully launched the ocean observation Sentinel-6 from the North American west coast’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Falcon 9 first stage was successfully retrieved in a maneuver that caused sonic booms that could be heard in California’s Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.

The sonic booms could be heard in the live mission feed shortly before the rocket stage landed on Zone 4, not far from the launchpad used to launch the satellite.

Sentinel-6 will be used to measure changes in sea level as part of monitoring the effects of climate change on the ocean. Once it is in its designated orbit, it will be able to make observations of about 90 percent of the world’s oceans and measure sea levels with an accuracy of only a few centimeters.

As one might guess from the name, this is the sixth satellite in the Sentinel constellation created by the European Space Agency’s Copernicus project to monitor the effects of climate change and warn of impending natural disasters.

Sentinel is just one of several satellite constellations that can be used to both help with response to natural disasters and provide a perspective of humanity’s impact on the environment that would be impossible to obtain on the ground. Data from Sentinel-1, for instance, was used to predict an earthquake in southern Europe and monitor the effect of drought on cropland.

Satellite images can track illegal logging that would be difficult to detect until after the fact and monitor air pollution levels from wildfires. Constellations like Starlink can also be used to maintain Internet-based communications for ground teams that are combating natural disasters like wildfires in Washington State when local utilities and communication services might have been knocked out.

(If that’s not enough, Starlink is also being used to help close the digital divide for people like the Native American Hoh Tribe and low-income families in a Texas school district.)

The images you see on your TV screen when you watch the weather report will usually come from weather satellites, and those images can be used to predict severe weather events like hurricanes. This means that weather forecasts and severe weather alerts can be issued faster and more accurately than they would have been before satellite technology existed.

Likewise, data from Sentinel-6 may help to refine predictions of how much ocean levels might change due to climate change. This can help with planning for future ocean levels that might threaten inhabited islands and coastal communities that are most likely to be impacted by rising ocean levels. This is just one of the many satellites that are being used to help scientists refine their modeling of how climate change is impacting the planet, help disaster relief teams coordinate their efforts and predict when and where the next natural disaster might occur, and assist with humanitarian efforts such as closing the digital divide that often holds less fortunate people back due to lack of opportunity.