ULA and SpaceX to launch Earth observation satellites
NASA has awarded SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) contracts to handle delivery of a Landsat series satellite and a joint European-US oceanography mission. The SpaceX Falcon 9 and ULA Atlas 5 are the designated rockets to deliver the observation satellites into orbit.
ULA and SpaceX acquired the contracts after separate procurements. NASA’s Launch Services Program vetted applicants for the project. Both contractors are certified by NASA to launch robotic space missions for the agency.
The Landsat 9
A ULA Atlas 5 rocket will carry the Landsat 9 satellite into orbit. The rocket is to launch from the Space Launch Complex 3-East located in Vandenberg. Landsat 9 will maintain polar orbit after the launch. The date of launch is set to be June 2021. The mission is set to be a rough copy of Landsat 8 with an orbital height of 705 kilometers above sea-level.
Orbital ATK is the company tasked with building the Landsat 9. The United States Geological Survey will handle operations of the satellite once it is in orbit. The Landsat 9 is the latest in a series of observation satellites have been providing moderate-resolution images since 1972. These satellites collect information on crop-patterns, forest density, water usage, and urban sprawl for scientists, surveyors, and decision-makers.
The Landsat 9 launch contract is valued at a 153.8 million USD.
The Sentinel 6A
On the other hand, SpaceX with its Falcon 9 will be lifting the Sentinel 6A into orbit. The satellite, also known as the Jason Continuity of Service (Jason-CS), is an oceanography satellite which was built to gauge wave height and sea level throughout several oceans. Scientists will use information acquired by Sentinel 6A for climate change studies as well as weather forecasts.
The Sentinel 6A, built by Airbus Defense and Space, is set to be launched into an inclined 1336 kilometer orbit from Vandenberg Airforce Base’s Space Launch Complex in November 2020.
The Jason-CS/Sentinel 6A is among the satellites included in the European Commission’s Copernicus program. The program maintains a fleet of Sentinel orbital spacecraft whose role is to collect data on oceans, ice caps, atmosphere, and land masses.
The SpaceX launch contract was set at 97 million USD.