SpaceX launches US-German research satellites to study water | News | DW | 23.05.2018
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SpaceX launches US-German research satellites to study water

Elon Musk's SpaceX has delivered a pair of satellites into orbit that will measure subtle fluctuations in the earth's gravity. The German Center for Geosciences and NASA jointly funded the mission.

SpaceX launched two US-German research satellites into Earth orbit on Tuesday as part of a collaborative initiative to monitor changes in the earth's mass to better predict the effects of droughts.

The car-sized satellites were deployed minutes after taking off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

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The German Center for Geosciences (GFZ) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are set to use the payload as part of their Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment-Follow On (GRACE-FO) mission.

The satellites will orbit the earth once every 90 minutes at an altitude of 304 miles (490 kilometers) at a set distance of 137 miles apart. The initiative builds on GRACE, which examined changes in the Earth's water and its mass by measuring tiny variations in the planet's gravity.

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Building on 'Revolutionary mission'

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"GRACE was really a revolutionary mission for us understanding the water cycle and how the climate behaves and the trends which are taking place over the last 10 or 15 years," said Frank Webb, a GRACE-FO project scientist.

GFZ contributed €77 million ($91 million) to the project, while NASA contributed $430 million. European aerospace giant Airbus built the identical satellites in the southern German town of Friedrichshafen.

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SpaceX also launched five communications satellites for US-based Iridium Communications from the same Falcon 9 rocket during the spacecraft's second stage. The company is planning to spend $3 billion to replace its entire fleet of commercial communication satellites.

After a launch in January, the Falcon 9's first stage was recovered, but SpaceX did not repeat the feat with Tuesday's launch.

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amp/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)

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