by Anshul Dash
NASA has recently finished testing the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, which is set to launch in November. The satellite’s purpose is to find out more about global warming’s effects on the oceans, coastlines, and weather by collecting accurate data on sea level. Rigorous testing was done to ensure that the satellite can perform well in the harsh conditions of space.
The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite was built as a part of the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission. The mission is an effort by the US and Europe to launch two identical satellites five years apart. The satellite will join an already existing set of satellites called the Copernicus Constellation of Satellites. This set of satellites represents the European Union’s Observation Program. Once the satellites reach orbit, they will start collecting sea level data for almost all of the world’s oceans, at 90%. The data collected will be added to a 30-year-old database created by the US and the European Union. In addition to collecting sea level data, the satellite will measure the temperature and humidity of Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn provides useful information for hurricane predictions and weather forecasts in general. Scientists’ strong belief in the connection between the ocean and the atmosphere is the main reason behind collecting this data. Heat causes sea levels to rise since seawater expands in higher temperatures.
The first test that the engineers performed was the vibration test. They replicated the shaking movement of the satellite to simulate its condition when attached to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during its blast into orbit. The satellite was then placed in a big vacuum chamber and exposed to extreme temperatures that it could encounter in space, from 65 to minus 180 degrees Celsius (149 to minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit). The second test was the acoustics test, which was conducted to make the satellite could withstand loud noises that might occur during the launch. The engineers tested this by placing the satellite in a chamber with enormous speakers. They then blasted the speakers with four 1 minute intervals of sound, with the loudest interval going to 140 decibels. The final test performed was the electromagnetic compatibility test. This test ensured that the electronics and sensors on the satellite wouldn’t interfere with each other while collecting data. This test was done differently than planned due to social distancing rules being enforced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the tests were being conducted in Germany, the engineers in California worked during the night, from midnight to 10 AM. They communicated with their colleagues from Germany with phone calls, video conferences, chat rooms, and text messages. However, the test was still a success despite the inconveniences.
Since the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS mission is a US-European Union joint mission, many space agencies are taking part in this mission. NASA is contributing to this mission by equipping each of the Sentinel-6 satellites with three science instrumental payloads: the Global Navigation Satellite System – Radio Occultation, the Advanced Microwave Radiometer, and the Laser Reflector Array. In addition to providing these payloads, NASA is also providing launch services for these satellites, ground control services, science data processors for these instruments, and general support for the international Ocean Surface Topography Science Team.