NASA’s PREFIRE Mission To Study Polar Heat Escape Set To Launch

NASA Cubesat Over Earth

NASA’s PREFIRE mission, in collaboration with Rocket Lab, aims to study heat loss from Earth’s polar regions using CubeSats. Scheduled to launch in May 2024 from New Zealand, this mission seeks to fill crucial gaps in our understanding of the polar regions’ role in Earth’s heat balance, impacting global climate patterns and sea level predictions. Credit: NASA

Data from NASA’s PREFIRE mission will improve our understanding of how the Arctic and Antarctic help to regulate Earth’s climate, the mechanisms of polar ice loss, and related issues of sea level rise and sea ice loss.

NASA and Rocket Lab are targeting no earlier than Wednesday, May 22, 2024, for the first of two launches of the agency’s PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment) mission to study heat loss to space in Earth’s polar regions. For the PREFIRE mission, two CubeSats will launch on two different flights aboard the company’s Electron rockets from Launch Complex 1 in Māhia, New Zealand. Each launch will carry one satellite.

NASA’s PREFIRE mission will fill a gap in our understanding of how much of Earth’s heat is lost to space from the polar regions. By capturing measurements over the poles that can only be gathered from space, PREFIRE will enable researchers to systematically study the planet’s heat emissions in the far-infrared — with 10 times finer wavelength resolution than any previous sensor.

PREFIRE Satellite Illustration

PREFIRE’s two small satellites – shown in an artist’s concept orbiting Earth – will measure the amount of heat radiated into space by the planet’s polar regions. Data from the mission will inform climate and ice models. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Arctic and Antarctic help regulate Earth’s climate by radiating heat initially absorbed at the tropics back into space. But for regions like the Arctic, the spectrum of 60% of the energy escaping to space hasn’t been systematically measured. Filling in this picture is important for understanding which parts of the polar environment are responsible for heat loss and why the Arctic has warmed more than 2.5 times faster than the rest of the planet. In addition to helping us understand how the poles serve as Earth’s thermostat, PREFIRE observations of this heat exchange can improve our understanding of the mechanisms of polar ice loss and related questions of sea level rise and sea ice loss.

The instruments will fly on two identical CubeSats — one instrument per CubeSat — in asynchronous, near-polar orbits.

NASA and the University of Wisconsin-Madison jointly developed the PREFIRE mission. The agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located in Southern California, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and provided the spectrometers. Blue Canyon Technologies built the CubeSats, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will process the collected data.

The launch, which Rocket Lab named “Ready, Aim, PREFIRE,” will be followed by a second CubeSat mission launch several weeks later. The second launch, which the company calls “PREFIRE and Ice,” will also lift off from New Zealand on an Electron rocket. NASA’s Launch Services Program selected Rocket Lab to launch both spacecraft as part of the agency’s VADR (Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare) contract.

1 Comment on "NASA’s PREFIRE Mission To Study Polar Heat Escape Set To Launch"

  1. dr mehrdad aghakasiri 00989332197646 | May 8, 2024 at 11:38 am | Reply

    Why did they forget the earth? All the secrets of humans are in the earth, but humans looked at the sky and forgot the earth. Everything is hidden under thousands of meters of soil. Who changed the continents, islands and lakes? Why are the statues and inscriptions You will not dig out the thirty thousand years of history that belonged to the thirty thousand years of civilization of humans who lived with dinosaurs. Humans are so involved in the earth and life that they do not think about the earth’s interior. A naked woman was formed tens of millions of years ago

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