From the oceans to the atmosphere, there’s still quite a bit we don’t understand about our planet. NASA’s latest Earth-observing spacecraft hopes to greatly expand our knowledge of the globe in just a few years.
The PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft is the next payload to launch into orbit that will build upon more than 20 years of direct Earth observation. Dr. Nicola Fox, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, described the spacecraft as a “jewel” among the Earth-observing fleet.
“We have a theme in SMD of the search for life elsewhere. And so, we’re obviously excited by bringing the samples back from Bennu, going off and getting ready to launch Europa Clipper later this year to explore the ocean world of Europa, but PACE allows us to explore the ocean world here,” Fox said.
“And if you think that we’re the only planet right now that we know that sustains life and all of the life that we have here started in the oceans. And so, by studying the oceans and studying what’s in there and kind of learning about that, I actually think it’s a really key part of understanding how we would ever go about finding life, or signatures of life, on other worlds.”
After it launches, PACE will head to a 676.5 km (420 mi) orbital altitude with a 98 degree inclination. It will operate in a sun synchronous, polar orbit with 1300 local crossing time. It has a design life of three years, but it carries up to ten years worth of fuel.
That nominal three-year mission has a cost of $948 million, which includes launch costs, spacecraft development and operating support.
To study not only the oceans, but their interplay with the atmosphere via clouds and aerosols, PACE is sporting three main instruments:
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