Rocket Lab to launch NASA’s PREFIRE mission

Key Points

  • 💡 Rocket Lab selected by NASA to launch PREFIRE mission for Earth’s climate study.
  • 💡 PREFIRE consists of two cubesats to measure heat loss from Earth’s ice caps.
  • 💡 Launch from New Zealand to a polar orbit over Arctic and Antarctic ice caps.
  • 💡 Rocket Lab’s rapid back-to-back launches make them suitable for the mission.
  • 💡 PREFIRE cubesats will measure heat loss to predict ice melt and sea level rise.
  • 💡 Launch contract under NASA’s VADR services; JPL manages mission, UW-Madison processes data.
  • 💡 The main cubesats built by Blue Canyon Technologies.

NASA has unveiled its choice of Rocket Lab as the launch provider for the forthcoming PREFIRE mission, aimed at investigating Earth’s climate dynamics and the dissipation of heat into space.

The PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment) initiative will entail the deployment of two 6U cubesats, scheduled for back-to-back launch no earlier than May 2024. Departing from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, these satellites will be inserted into a polar orbit at an altitude of 525 km (326 miles), traversing over both the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps.

Marking Rocket Lab’s 7th and 8th missions in partnership with NASA, these cubesats will play an instrumental role in the mission’s success. Their unique capability for swift consecutive launches is a paramount requirement for PREFIRE’s demands.

Once deployed in orbit, the PREFIRE cubesats will initiate their scientific observations subsequent to the deployment of dual solar arrays. By gauging the amount of thermal energy escaping from the ice caps into the atmosphere and space, these cubesats will contribute to forecasting future ice melting, a pivotal factor in the rise of sea levels and consequential coastal erosion across the globe.

A render of the PREFIRE cubesats in orbit (Credit NASA JPL)

The launch contract was awarded under NASA’s VADR (Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare) launch services which are based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will manage the mission and is providing the instruments, while the University of Wisconsin-Madison will process the data collected. The main cubesats will be built by Blue Canyon Technologies.

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