June 23, 2024

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Launch of NASA's PREFIRE mission to study the Earth's polar regions

Launch of NASA's PREFIRE mission to study the Earth's polar regions

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Polar Radiant Energy in the Far Infrared Experiment, or PREFIRE, mission sends two research satellites — shown here in concept art — to study how much heat is lost to space from Earth's polar regions.

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NASA has launched the first two research satellites to measure the amount of heat lost to space from the Arctic and Antarctica.

The satellite is the size of a shoebox Uploaded on Saturday At 7:42 PM local time (3:42 AM ET) aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex in Mahia, New Zealand. The company confirmed the satellite was successfully launched at 8:35 pm local time (4:35 am ET).

The climate science mission, known as the Polar Radiant Energy in the Far Infrared Experiment, or PREFIRE, aims to improve scientists' understanding of how water vapor, clouds and other elements in Earth's atmosphere trap heat and prevent it from radiating into space.

Rocket laboratory

Technicians integrate PREFIRE inside the Rocket Lab Electron payload exhibit on Wednesday at the company's facility in New Zealand.

The data collected will benefit climate models and hopefully lead to better predictions about how the climate crisis will affect sea levels, weather, snow and ice cover. NASA said.

The Earth absorbs a lot of energy from the Sun in the tropics. Weather and ocean currents move that thermal energy toward the poles, where the heat radiates upward into space. NASA added that much of this heat is at far-infrared wavelengths and has not been systematically measured before.

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PREFIRE consists of two CubeSats equipped with specialized miniature thermal sensors. NASA said that the launch date of the second satellite will be announced shortly after the launch of the first satellite.

Once launched, the two satellites will be in asynchronous near-polar orbits, passing over a specific point at different times, and looking at the same area within hours of each other.

Doing so would allow satellites to collect data on phenomena that occur on a short time scale and require repeated measurements — such as how the amount of cloud cover affects the temperature of the ground beneath them.