house of the rising sun

A golden satellite is about to start an incredible journey

Sadly, you cannot live in this house-shaped satellite that will watch over humanity.

On Tuesday, NASA announced its most house-shaped satellite has a new name: the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, named after retired NASA Earth scientist Michael Freilich. It has an incredible artist's rendering to go with it, but its mission will keep alive a streak that is just as incredible.

The official illustration, courtesy of the ESA/NASA, shows the climate satellite majestically soaring above Earth, with the sun rising just over the horizon, its gold foil radiation shield sparkling. The extended solar arrays form an "A," akin to a roof you'd read about in Little House on the Prairie. You might even want to live in it for a time. Sadly, you cannot: the dimensions of this tiny-home satellite would make it feel more like an escape pod than the subject of basic cable programming. It's 16'9" long by 13'8" wide by 7'8" tall, according to ESA specs.


The satellite will launch into space in October and take precise altimetry measurements through the 2020s. The mission is only scheduled for five years, but this golden space house could fly as long as 25 years.

It's all in service of a mission to track climate change in NASA's Earth science program.

"Decadal-level scale in regional and global sea level are perhaps the most robust evidence that Earth's climate is changing and that's why humanity -- not one agency, not one country, not one continent, but humanity -- has been monitoring global sea levels from space with exquisite accuracy for more than 28 years," Freilich said during his remarks from the podium at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. during the morning presentation.

"I actually thought that as sea level rises, and the ocean deepens, we have deepened our collaboration as well," Freilich said of international collaboration to monitor climate change via rising sea levels.


The satellite claims an impressive payload, including a POSEIDON-4 SAR radar altimeter, and an AMR-C radiometer to retrieve water vapor content over global and coastal ocean waters, among other technologies to measure sea level rise on Earth.

For perspective, sea levels have risen, on average, a tenth of an inch per year due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere, which traps heat, which causes the world's iced-over polar regions to melt. When it comes to the ripple effects of a hotter Earth, rising sea levels are only the beginning.

Construction of the satellite, by Airbus, was finished in September in the city of Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Sentinel-6A, built by Airbus will provide high accuracy altimetry for measuring global sea-surface height, primarily for operational oceanography and for climate studies.

Airbus / Lorenz Engelhardt

With data from this satellite, NASA and the ESA will keep a notable streak alive: The agencies have tracked 28 years of sea level change from space.

The October launch will be from the Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. Either SpaceX or United Launch Alliance could put the satellite into orbit, according to the ESA.

"Earth Science shows perhaps more than any other discipline how important partnership is to the future of this planet," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for Science in a statement about the new name. "Mike exemplifies the commitment to excellence, generosity of spirit and unmatched ability to inspire trust that made so many people across the world want to advance big goals on behalf of our planet and all its people by working with NASA. The fact that ESA and the European partners have given him this unprecedented honor demonstrates that respect and admiration."

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