NASA has selected SpaceX for the launch of a first-of-its-kind science satellite — the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft. The launch, scheduled to take place in April 2021, will take place from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California using a Falcon 9 rocket, the space agency said in a statement released Wednesday.
“Designed to make the first-ever global survey of Earth’s surface water, in addition to high-resolution ocean measurements, the SWOT mission will collect detailed measurements of how water bodies on Earth change over time,” NASA said. “The satellite will survey at least 90 percent of the globe, studying Earth's lakes, rivers, reservoirs and oceans, at least twice every 21 days, aid in freshwater management around the world, to improve ocean circulation models and weather and climate predictions.”
The launch of the satellite, which will be jointly developed and managed by NASA and the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, is expected to cost roughly $112 million.
“We’re excited to carry this critical science payload into orbit for NASA, the nation, and the international community,” Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, told SpaceNews. “We appreciate NASA’s partnership and confidence in SpaceX as a launch provider.”
In addition to the commercial resupply services contracts for delivery of cargo and crew to the International Space Station, SpaceX currently holds another NASA contract — valued at approximately $87 million, awarded by the space agency in December 2014 for the launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite next year.
NASA, on its part, is looking for ways to cut costs of its other space missions — including its planned crewed missions to Mars — by increasing partnerships with private companies such as SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance. This is something that is also likely to continue under Donald Trump’s presidency, as Vice President-elect Mike Pence has vowed to “promote increased cooperation with the commercial space industry.”
However, SpaceX is yet to resume launches since the Sept.1 explosion that destroyed one of its Falcon 9 rockets on the launch pad. CEO Elon Musk recently said the company’s rocket launches will likely restart in mid-December.