PREFIRE Satellite Illustration

Rocket Lab to launch two Nasa satellites monitoring climate change

Image credit: NASA

Nasa has selected Rocket Lab to launch its PREFIRE mission to low Earth orbit in 2024, in a bid to improve scientists’ understanding of climate change and global warming.

Two dedicated PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment) missions will use the firm’s Electron rocket to deploy one small satellite each to a 525km orbit. The two 6U CubeSats will have a baseline mission length of 10 months.

Electron is a two-stage, partially recoverable orbital launch vehicle that has been in use since 2017. Although the rocket was designed to be expendable, Rocket Lab has recovered the first stage twice and is working towards the capability of reusing the booster.

The two satellites will be equipped with a thermal infrared spectrometer to compare the data with conditions in cloud cover and sea ice levels below.

Analysis of the measurements obtained by the satellites will inform climate and ice models, providing better projections of how a warming world will affect sea ice loss, ice sheet melt and sea level rise. Improving climate models can ultimately help to provide more accurate projections on the impacts of storm severity and frequency, as well as coastal erosion and flooding.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said: “Missions like these are core to the whole reason why Rocket Lab was founded in the first place – to open up access to space to improve life on Earth – and climate change is a hugely urgent cause for us all. It’s a privilege to be able to support this important mission and an honour to be a continued trusted launch provider for small satellite missions with big impact.”

PREFIRE joins a long list of Nasa missions awarded to Rocket Lab, including last year’s CAPSTONE mission, which saw a small satellite launched into the moon’s orbit to send back vital data that can be used as a stepping stone to an eventual moon base.

Eventually, Nasa plans to put a space station called Gateway into the orbital path, from which astronauts can descend to the moon’s surface as part of its Artemis programme.

Rocket Lab also took part in back-to-back launches in May 2023 of the TROPICS satellites for Nasa’s hurricane monitoring mission, and the Nasa Starling mission, launched last month.

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