May 22, 2018

SpaceX launches NASA mission to track groundwater, ice sheets

The NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft launches onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA.

NASA has two new eyes in the sky after SpaceX successfully deployed a pair of sensitive spacecrafts that can detect tiny changes in the Earth's gravitational field.

Why it matters: Known as the GRACE-FO mission, for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, the satellites will provide scientists with crucial data for tracking climate change.

The details: The satellites, which were deployed atop a reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3:47 p.m. ET., are capable of detecting changes in groundwater availability worldwide, giving early warning to security agencies about potential areas of political instability due to potential conflict over natural resources.

  • The GRACE-FO mission, which is technically a joint mission between the U.S. and Germany, will also be used to answer critical questions about how quickly and extensively the planet's ice sheets are melting. The first GRACE mission helped scientists discover the quickening pace at which Greenland and parts of Antarctica are losing mass, which is raising sea levels worldwide.

Be smart: According to NASA, the twin satellites will follow each other in orbit around the Earth, separated by about 137 miles (220 km.) As they do so, they will send microwave signals to each other. Areas of slightly stronger gravity (more mass) as well as slightly weaker gravity will change this distance slightly. By using these changes, they will enable scientists to map water resources, ice sheets, and potentially discover other applications as well.

Go deeper: First map of global freshwater trends shows "human fingerprint."

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 6,804,044 — Total deaths: 362,678 — Total recoveries — 2,788,806Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 1,909,077 — Total deaths: 109,497 — Total recoveries: 491,706 — Total tested: 19,231,444Map.
  3. Public health: Why the pandemic is hitting minorities harder — Coronavirus curve rises in FloridaHow racism threatens the response to the pandemic Some people are drinking and inhaling cleaning products in attempt to fight the virus.
  4. Tech: The pandemic is accelerating next-generation disease diagnostics — Robotics looks to copy software-as-a-service model.
  5. Business: Budgets busted by coronavirus make it harder for cities to address inequality Sports, film production in California to resume June 12 after 3-month hiatus.
  6. Education: Students and teachers flunked remote learning.

George Floyd updates

Protesters in Washington, D.C. on June 6. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Thousands of demonstrators are gathering in cities across the U.S. and around the world to protest the killing of George Floyd. Huge crowds have assembled in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago for full-day events.

Why it matters: Twelve days of nationwide protest in the U.S. has built pressure for states to make new changes on what kind of force law enforcement can use on civilians and prompted officials to review police conduct.

Why the coronavirus pandemic is hitting minorities harder

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on black and Latino communities has become a defining part of the pandemic.

The big picture: That's a result of myriad longstanding inequities within the health care system and the American economy.