Lasers in space: Earth mission tests new technology
08 May 2018
Imagine standing on the roof of a building in Los Angeles and trying to point a laser so accurately that you could hit a particular building in San Diego, more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. This accuracy is required for the feat that a novel technology demonstration aboard the soon-to-launch Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission will aim to achieve. For the first time, a promising technique called laser ranging interferometry will be tested between two satellites.
GRACE-FO, scheduled to launch on 19 May, carries on the rich legacy of the original GRACE mission, which launched in 2002 on a planned five-year mission and concluded operations in October 2017. Among its insights, GRACE transformed our understanding of the global water cycle by showing how masses of liquid water and ice are changing each month. The mission also added to our knowledge of large-scale changes in the solid Earth. GRACE-FO will provide continuity for GRACE's landmark measurements for at least another five years, further improving scientific understanding of Earth system processes and the accuracy of environmental monitoring and forecasts.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech - GRACE-FO mission illustrating the effectiveness of using lasers as compared to the microwaves by the GRACE-FO mission