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NASA Mission to Keep a Tab on the Earth’s Water Resources to Launch This Month

  • A pair of Earth orbiters designed to keep track of the planet's water resources and evolving water cycle is scheduled to launch this month – no earlier than May 22, 2018. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On mission, or GRACE-FO, will pick up where its predecessor, GRACE, left off when it completed its 15-year mission in 2017. By measuring changes in Earth’s gravity, the mission will track water movement around the globe, identifying risks such as droughts and floods and revealing how land ice and sea level are evolving.

    The Grace-FO mission is a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ). It will measure small variations in Earth’s mass to track how and where water is moving across the planet.

    GRACE-FO works by flying two spacecraft in tandem around Earth - one spacecraft trailing the other at a distance of about 137 miles (220 kilometers). By pointing their microwave ranging instruments at each other, the satellites can measure tiny changes in the distance between them - within one micron (the diameter of a blood cell) -caused by changes in Earth's gravitational field. Scientists can then use those measurements to create a map of Earth’s global gravitational field and calculate local mass variations.