Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX tapped to launch NASA’s surface water survey satellite

NASA's Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s confidence in Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX was reinforced recently by the announcement that the NewSpace firm had been chosen to provide launch services for the U.S. space agency’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission.

Currently scheduled to lift off in April 2021, a Full Thrust Falcon 9 will launch with SWOT from Vandenberg Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 4E (East) located in California. SpaceX will receive some $112 million for launch services, processing of the spacecraft, integration of the satellite with the F9 launcher, as well as tracking, data, and telemetry support.

NASA’s SWOT mission is meant to provide the first global survey of Earth’s surface water. If everything goes as advertised, the spacecraft will also work to capture high-resolution ocean measurements. While on orbit, it will be set to work gathering detailed measurements of how water bodies on Earth change over time.

When all is said and done, SWOT should survey approximately 90 percent of Earth’s surface in its efforts to review lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and oceans. The satellite should complete a review of these bodies of water about once every three weeks.

SWOT is designed to provide tangible services and will assist in the management of freshwater resources across the globe. It should also provide ocean circulation models and allow forecasters to produce improved weather and climate predictions.

As is so often the case with space endeavors, SWOT will be a collaborative effort between NASA and the French space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES).

To date, SpaceX has launched various versions of its Falcon 9 rockets some 28 times – 26 of them have been successful. At present, the aerospace firm is working to recover from an anomaly encountered on Sept. 1, which saw a massive fireball erupt from the rocket’s second stage that quickly consumed the launch vehicle and the payload fairing with the $195 million Amos-6 spacecraft it carried.

Since that time, SpaceX has been working to replicate and, therefore, prevent future such mishaps.

NASA’s Launch Services Program, based in the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, manages the selection of launch services for its various missions. In terms of SWOT, that will be handled by the SWOT Project office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The spacecraft’s development is handled by the space agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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