Two sportscar-sized satellites in orbit to measure Earth's water

Commercial satellites deployed by SpaceX rocket

Called GRACE-FO, for short, the mission will detect the movement of Earth's water masses and changes in mass within the planet by measuring variations in gravity through tiny fluctuations in the distance between the two satellites as they orbit 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart - roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego - at an altitude of about 304 miles (490 kilometers).

This first-stage booster has flown once before, a little more than four months ago when it launched the Zuma mission for the USA government-a satellite or spacecraft that was apparently lost in space after it failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Groundwater, oceans, lakes, rivers and ice sheets will be monitored by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO), a joint mission between the United States space agency and German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ). The two satellites, about the size of a sports auto, will fly in tandem 137 miles apart in a 305-mile orbit around Earth's poles.

SpaceX's recovery ship, Mr Steven is heading out into the ocean to attempt to catch at least one half of the expensive shell used to protect spacecraft during the early phases of launch. Two of those included new Earth-observing satellites from NASA.

The GRACE-FO satellites are also joined by five Iridium satellites on the Falcon 9.

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The fairings landing in the Pacific Ocean after deploying parachutes to slow their descent. Viewers will be able to watch the lift off and separation of the satellites, but SpaceX will not be recovering this older booster as it shifts its focus to the final version of its workhorse rocket. -German science satellites created to study the movement of water masses across the Earth. They are the replacement for the original GRACE mission, which ended operations in 2017, fifteen years after it first began. Then the lower, leading satellite will be raised into the same orbit as the higher, trailing satellite. The May 22 launch grows the constellation to 55 Iridium Next satellites in orbit. An additional six spares will remain on the ground until needed.

GRACE-FO will spend the next five years mapping Earth's gravity to study the effects of climate change around the world.

"If mass changes on the ground, like in aquifers or melting glaciers or in the oceans and so on, we see it immediately in a range change, which we measure very, very precisely by a microwave tracking system with a precision of about one micrometer", said Frank Flechtner, GRACE-FO project manager at the German Research Centre for Geosciences, or GFZ.

NASA's share of the GRACE-FO mission cost is $430 million.

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