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HomeScienceFreshly-Launched SWOT Satellite to "Revolutionize Our Understanding" of Earth's Surface Water

Freshly-Launched SWOT Satellite to “Revolutionize Our Understanding” of Earth’s Surface Water

The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite has successfully launched from Vandenberg in California, and is now on its way to become the most detailed water-level observation device in history — thanks to its new radar system, KaRIn.

“For the first time, SWOT will produce detailed images of water levels that will help understand the complex processes that connect water levels over the ocean and inland waters,” explains Christine Gommenginger, professor, principal scientist in satellite oceanography, and co-lead of the SWOT-UK project. “One objective of SWOT-UK is to demonstrate how satellite Earth observation data can be used with in situ instruments and numerical models to answer important questions for science and society.”

The SWOT satellite aims to give us a greater understanding of the Earth’s surface water. (📹: UK Space Agency)

The SWOT satellite, developed by an international team of scientists from NASA, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the UK Space Agency, has as its primary payload a novel radar sensor dubbed the Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn). This, its creators explain, will survey the water levels across more than 90 percent of the Earth’s surface — transmitting radar pulses and measuring their return using a pair of antennas, which allow it to calculate the height of lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and oceans.

“SWOT will revolutionize our understanding of our planet’s surface water and how its patterns are changing, giving us vital information to improve how we manage one of humanity’s most precious resources,” says Paul Bate, PhD, chief executive officer of the UK Space Agency. “This is an important mission for the UK to be involved in, both in terms of building the radar instrument and in directly receiving and analyzing Earth observation data for the UK. I look forward to seeing the data that the satellite returns on the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary.”

The KaRIn sensor will operate in two modes, once the satellite has become operational. A low-resolution mode will be used over the ocean, along with on-device data processing to lower the bandwidth needs of its communications downlink; a higher-resolution mode will be used when the satellite is over land, to allow it to better read smaller water sources like rivers and lakes, offering a greater than 0.8″ height measurement accuracy at a 0.6 mile spatial resolution.

Other scientific devices on the SWOT satellite include a laser retroreflector and a two-beam microwave radiometer from NASA, with CNES providing the Doppler Orbitography and Radioposition Integrated by Satellite (DORIS) package and a dual-frequency altimeter dubbed Poseidon.

More information on the project is available on NASA’s website.

Abdullah Anaman
Abdullah Anaman
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