Big reveal

Watch: NASA's new satellite unwraps itself in space, like a little golden gift

NASA

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Without water, there’d be no life on Earth — and yet there’s still so much we don’t know about our planet’s waterways.

NASA

But a newly-launched spacecraft called the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite will soon begin mapping the planet’s oceans, rivers, and lakes in unprecedented detail.

SWOT launched on December 16, and has been in orbit ever since.

But it wasn’t until more recently that the satellite finished positioning its scientific instruments to begin tracking Earth’s changing water levels.

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NASA

Cameras on board the satellite watched as SWOT unwrapped itself like a golden present — stretching its wings, so to speak, in preparation for the tasks ahead.

Here are 7 views of the new satellite in space:

NASA

7. On Dec. 16, just about 50 minutes after launch, the folded-up satellite separated from the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it into space.

NASA

6. Later that day, two solar arrays unfolded from either side of the satellite.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

5. Here they are clicking into place, stretching out to their full length of 48.8 feet.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

4. Next, the satellite unfolded its Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn) — a process that took four days to complete.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

3. Here is the KaRIn antenna reaching its full length. It’s designed to measure Earth’s water levels in unmatched detail.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

2. On Dec. 22, the satellite finished deploying KaRIn, though its cameras cut out just before the process ended.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

NASA

1. Now, SWOT will get to work scanning the Earth by pinging it with radar signals and listening for echoes. It will complete a full pass of the planet at least once every 21 days.