NASA and CNES agree to proceed on SWOT mission
NASA and the French Space Agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) have agreed to move forward with plans to jointly build, launch and operate a spacecraft that will conduct the first global survey of the Earth’s surface water and also map ocean surface height. On Friday, May 2, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and CNES Presisdent Jean-Yyes Le Gall signed an agreement at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C to begin implementation of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission. The SWOT spacecraft is scheduled to be launched into Earth orbit in 2020.
“With this mission, NASA builds on a legacy of Earth science research and our strong relationship with CNES to develop new ways to observe and understand our changing climate and water resources,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The knowledge we’ll gain from SWOT will help decision makers better analyze, anticipate and act to influence events that will affect us and future generations.”
The SWOT mission was recommended in the National Research Council’s 2007 decadal survey of Earth science priorities. NASA and CNES began initial feasibility studies in 2009 and plan to complete design work on the spacecraft by 2016. Orbiting at an altitude of 970 kilometers (aproximately 603 miles) the satellite will observe 90 percent of the globe and study Earth’s lakes, rivers, reservoirs and oceans to aid in the management of freshwater around the world. Data provided by SWOT will also aid in improving ocean circulation models and weather and climate predictions.
The new agreement between NASA and CNES will cover the entire lifespan of the SWOT mission, from design and construction of the spacecraft through launch, science operations and finally decommissioning. SWOT’s scientific mission is planned to have a duration of three years.
NASA is responsible for providing the SWOT payload module, the Ka-band Radar Inferometer (KaRin) instrument, the Microwave Radiometer (RM) and its antenna, a laser retroreflector array and a GPS receiver payload. NASA will also be responsible for ground support and launch services. The NASA portion of the mission will be Manages by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL).
CNES will provide the SWOT spacecraft bus, the radio frequency uni (RFU)t for the KaRin instrument, the dual frequency Ku/C-band Nadir Altimeter and the Doppler Orbitography and Radiopositioning Integrated by Satellite (DORIS) receiver package. CNES will also be responsible for satellite command and control and data processing infrastructure.
The SWOT spacecraft will use wide swath altimetery technology to produce high-resolution elevation measurements of the ocean surface and the surface of lakes, reservoirs and wetlands. Currently, only about 15 percent of the world’s lakes are measured from space. SWOT will be able to inventory a majority of medium to large lakes, as well as the the discharge volumes of rivers.
SWOT’s measurements of the ocean’s surface will have 10 times the resolution of current technologies. This increased capability will allow researchers to study small-scale features that are key components of how heat and carbon are exchanged between the ocean and the atmosphere. The spacecraft’s high-resolution observations will help scientists to compute the velocity and energy of ocean circulation. High-resolution data on small-scale ocean currents will contribute to an increased understanding of impacts on coastal regions such as navigation, erosion and the dispersal of pollutants.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.