Reaching Orbit – Satellites, SpaceX, Sea Level Rise Oh My! - Apollo Mapping
Posted on February 2nd, 2016

Reaching Orbit – Satellites, SpaceX, Sea Level Rise Oh My!

SpaceX, high on their latest successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket, made another attempt on January 16th, 2016. The rocket delivered Jason-3, an ocean monitoring satellite equipped to measures sea level rise, into orbit before ironically crashing into the ocean. SpaceX hopes to retain the first stage of their Falcon 9 rockets after they are launched and their mission is completed successfully. Reusing the first stage of the rocket could save millions in manufacturing costs, they would still have the cost of fuel and refurbishing the rocket but the savings is still significant and keeps them coming back for more. This time the rocket touched down and appeared to be in perfect order before toppling over and exploding on the platform, flinging debris into the ocean.

Watch the Falcon 9 rocket attempt another landing. (Video Credit: SpaceX)

It looks like something out of a James Bond movie, just no trap door hidden in a volcano. After close review it was determined that the crash occurred due to a faulty landing arm, which kept the rocket from stabilizing on one side, thus causing it to tilt and fall on that side.

Explosions are always fun when no one gets hurt, however the science that sent the rocket up in the first place is far more compelling. The Jason-3 satellite luckily reached orbit to join its predecessor Jason-2. The Jason program endeavors to measure sea level rise over time. In order to accurately compare data from the old satellites to the new satellite, the two must orbit and collect data at the same time before Jason-2 is decommissioned. Overlapping times in orbit allow for researchers to calibrate the two datasets to account for any difference between the sensors or data collection. Since the mission to monitor sea level rise began in 1992, scientists have observed rising levels of 3 millimeters (mm) a year, totaling 70 mm or 2.8 inches in the last 23 years.

This video shows how the sea level is changing on Earth using data from the Jason satellite mission. (Video Credit: NASA/JPL)

NASA and NOAA separately studied climate data from last year and concluded that 2015 was the warmest year on record since they have been keeping track back in 1880. The surface temperature in 2015, along with the globally-averaged temperature, both shattered the previous record. The average temperature easily surpassed the previous year increase by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a very sharp increase in just a year’s time. This continuing trend will no doubt lead to increased sea level rise, endangering both humans and wildlife. While space exploration is new and exciting and no matter how much it appeals to the public, NASA is deeply committed to monitoring the Earth. What’s the point of exploring new worlds if our own world is at risk from human and environmental pressures? So NASA will continue to monitor the health of our planet while exploring the unknown universe.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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