Check out this footage of NASA's SWOT satellite unfolding itself in orbit

SWOT, NASA's newest satellite for mapping water, was put into orbit earlier in December 2022. Now watch it unfold itself in the void.
Christopher McFadden
Check out NASA's SWOT satellite unfold in space.


NASA released a video of its Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft opening up in space after being sent into space successfully onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 earlier this week. But before it could use its sensitive remote sensing equipment, it had to put out its arrays of solar panels, which give the satellite power.

After completing that critical phase, the satellite could then unfold its substantial mast and antenna panels. The program uses telemetry data to track and control the satellite. It also put four commercial cameras on the spacecraft to record what's happening.

The deployment of the solar arrays took around ten minutes, NASA reports.

The antennas were successfully deployed over four days on December 22, 2022. Two cameras pointed at the Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) antennas caught the mast extending from the spacecraft and locking into place.

Still, they could not capture the antennas fully deployed (a milestone the team confirmed with telemetry data).

The SWOT satellite wants to map Earth's water at a level of detail that has never been done before. This will help people deal with climate change and share data to help communities openly manage valuable resources.

The KaRIn instrument's two antennas are located at either end of the mast, 33 feet (ten meters) apart. KaRIn will look at eddies, currents, and other small ocean parts less than 13 miles (20 km) wide.

It is designed to take exact measurements of the height of water in Earth's freshwater and ocean bodies. Information will be gathered on rivers wider than 330 feet (100 meters) and lakes and reservoirs larger than 15 acres (62,500 square meters).

To collect data along a 30-mile (50-kilometer) broad swath on either side of the satellite, KaRIn will bounce radar pulses off the Earth's surface and the water and pick up the signals with both antennas.

The information SWOT offers, NASA explains, will aid communities' preparation for a warmer world and assist researchers and decision-makers in addressing some of today's most urgent climate-related challenges.

"Let me tell you, SWOT is a game changer," Tahani Amer, a program executive in NASA's Earth science division, said during a live-streamed November 14 NASA science briefing. SWOT will collaborate closely with other satellites to provide insightful information regarding water, while other missions concentrate on regions like the atmosphere or ice cover, Amer continued.

What is the mission of SWOT?

With assistance from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the U.K. Space Agency, SWOT was created jointly by NASA and the French space agency Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES). The U.S. portion of the project is led by JPL, which is run by Caltech in Pasadena, California, on behalf of NASA.

The Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) instrument, a GPS science receiver, a laser retroreflector, a two-beam microwave radiometer, and NASA instrument operations are all provided by NASA for the flight system payload.

The satellite platform, ground operations, KaRIn radio-frequency subsystem, dual frequency Poseidon altimeter (developed by Thales Alenia Space), Doppler Orbitography and Radioposition Integrated by Satellite (DORIS) system and Thales Alenia Space's Poseidon altimeter are all being provided by CNES. Thales Alenia Space is also contributing support from the U.K. Space Agency.

The KaRIn high-power transmitter assembly is supplied by CSA. The accompanying launch services are managed by NASA's Launch Services Program, which is situated at Kennedy Space Center. NASA is providing the launch vehicle.

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