Watch the newest water satellite unfold in space

This illustration shows the SWOT spacecraft with its antenna mast and solar arrays fully deployed. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Surface Waters and Oceans (SWOT) satellite launched into Earth orbit Friday, December 16, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in central California. accuracy of our planet’s water for the first time.

But before it can do that, the satellite will need to open its large mast and antenna panels (see above) after the solar panel arrays powering the spacecraft are successfully deployed. The mission monitors and controls the satellite using telemetry data, but has also equipped the spacecraft with four commercial motion-recording cameras.

The solar arrays fully deployed shortly after launch, taking about 10 minutes.

Two cameras aboard the Surface Waters and Oceans (SWOT) satellite captured the large mast and antenna flaps of the spacecraft’s main science instrument deployed over four days, a process that was completed Dec. 22, 2022. The masts, unfolding from opposite. The sides of the spacecraft can be seen extending from the spacecraft and locking into place, but the cameras stopped picking up at the antennas at the ends of the masts being fully deployed (a feature the team confirmed with telemetry data). This video puts the two camera pictures side by side. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

The antennas were successfully deployed over four days, a process that was completed on December 22nd. The two cameras focused on the KaRIn antennas picked up the mast extending from the spacecraft and locked it in place but stopped capturing the antennas being fully deployed (a milestone confirmed by the team with telemetry data.)

Thirty-three feet (10 meters) away, at either end of the mast, the two antennas belong to the leading Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) instrument. Designed to capture accurate measurements of the height of water in freshwater bodies on land and the ocean, KaRIn will see eddies, currents and other ocean features less than 13 miles (20 kilometers) wide. It will also collect data on lakes and reservoirs larger than 15 acres (62,500 square meters) and rivers over 330 feet (100 meters) wide.

This series of images shows the deployment of solar arrays powering the International Satellite for Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT). The mission, led by NASA and the French space agency CNES, captured the roughly 10-minute process using two of the four commercial cameras aboard the satellite (the same type used to capture NASA’s Perseverance spacecraft landing on Mars). SWOT launched on December 16, 2022, at 3:46 AM PST from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and the arrays began deploying at 5:01 AM PST. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

KaRIn will do this by bouncing radar pulses off the surface of the water on Earth and receiving the signals with those two antennas, collecting data along a 30-mile-wide (50-kilometer) swath on either side of the satellite.

The data provided by SWOT will help researchers and decision-makers address some of the most pressing climate questions of our time and help societies prepare for a warming world.

Provided by JPL

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