It’s about to be canceled, but it’s already flying above the Earth in a polar orbit. A Falcon 9 launched the mission on Thursday PEACE from NASA: one of the largest and most expensive satellites to study pollution on Earth.
PACE is that kind of made-up acronym common to space agencies. It stands for “Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem”, which gives many clues as to what you can observe from space.
The mission focuses on phytoplankton and aerosol studies, the microscopic life in water and air, which plays an important role in the carbon cycle and is therefore very sensitive to climate change. Phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into cellular material.
PACE water observation
Equipped with a hyperspectral ocean radiometer, PACE will be used to monitor pollution in oceans and other bodies of water.
Able to observe ultraviolet, visible light and near infrared, it will track the distribution of phytoplankton and, for the first time from space, it will identify communities of these organisms on a daily and global scale.
This data will be used to measure the effects of fishing exploitation, track harmful algal blooms and identify any changes in the marine environment.
PACE observations of the atmosphere
The satellite also carries two polarimeters that detect how sunlight interacts with atmospheric particles to measure air quality at local and global scales.
These sensitive instruments will allow the monitoring of aerosols in the atmosphere, such as soot produced by the burning of fossil fuels.
By combining its instruments, PACE will provide us with information about how the ocean and atmosphere interact, and how climate change will affect their interactions.
Overcome cancellation attempts
With a billion-dollar budget, PACE has overcome repeated cancellation attempts to become a symbol of the fight against climate change.
Its development started nine years ago, although he has 20 on the table. The mission was on the line during the Trump administration, but survived despite political and financial challenges thanks to the support of the scientific community.
Today PACE, in addition to an important scientific mission, is a testimony to the resilience of the scientific community and its commitment to climate research.