With liftoff set for today at 17:17 GMT (18:17 CET, 09:17 PST), the Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite is poised for liftoff – atop a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, US.
Once commissioned in orbit, this new Copernicus satellite will take the reins of delivering measurements of sea-surface height to monitor sea-level rise, and more.
With millions of people living in coastal communities around the world, rising seas are at the top of the list of major concerns linked to climate change. Monitoring sea-surface height is critical to understanding the changes taking place so that decision-makers have the evidence to implement appropriate policies to help curb climate change and for authorities to take action to protect vulnerable communities.
Over the last three decades, the French–US Topex-Poseidon and Jason mission series served as reference missions, and in combination with ESA’s earlier ERS and Envisat satellites, as well as today’s CryoSat and Copernicus Sentinel-3, they have shown how sea level has risen about 3.2 mm on average every year. More alarmingly, this rate of rise has been accelerating; over the last few years, the average rate of rise has been 4.8 mm a year.
Copernicus Sentinel-6 is the next radar altimetry reference mission to extend this legacy of sea-surface height measurements until at least 2030.
The mission comprises two identical satellites launched sequentially. Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich today, and Copernicus Sentinel-6B in 2025.
Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich was named in honor of the former head of NASA’s Earth science division. The name change not only recognizes Dr. Freilich’s outstanding contribution to the mission, but also his lifelong dedication to understanding our planet.
While Sentinel-6 is one of the European Union’s family of Copernicus missions, its implementation is the result of a unique cooperation between ESA, Eumetsat, NASA and NOAA, with contribution from the CNES French space agency.
Since its arrival at the launch site at the end of September, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich has been thoroughly tested, fuelled and joined to the launch adapter, encapsulated in the rocket fairing, and now rolled out to the launch tower and integrated into the rest of the rocket.
With the launch dress rehearsal done and everyone and everything in place, it’s now almost time for liftoff.