NASA selected ULA competitor SpaceX for a groundbreaking mission to map water movement

NASA selected ULA’s launch competitor SpaceX for a new mission to study previously unmapped water patterns.

NOAA's GOES-East satellite is providing continuous coverage of the major winter storm affecting the U.S. East Coast on January 21, 2014. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)
NOAA's GOES-East satellite is providing continuous coverage of the major winter storm affecting the U.S. East Coast on January 21, 2014. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)
NOAA’s GOES-East satellite is providing continuous coverage of the major winter storm affecting the U.S. East Coast on January 21, 2014. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX just landed another major government contract — this time to provide launch services for NASA’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission.

Valued at about $112 million, the SWOT mission is the first of its kind.

NASA announced the selection of SpaceX this week. The satellite will survey about 90 percent of the Earth, twice every 21 days, to gather high-resolution ocean measurements and measurements on how lakes, rivers, reservoirs and oceans change over time.

In 2007, SWOT was recognized as one of 15 missions NASA needed implement in the coming decade. The data gathered by the SWOT satellite will help identify the movement of precious stores of fresh water and can help scientists better understand the ocean’s role in climate change. The data will also help to improve weather and climate prediction.

So critical is the mission that it is born out of a collaboration among NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the French government space agency, CNES.

The mission is scheduled for launch in April 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX is still recovering from a prelaunch explosion in September that destroyed a $200 million Spacecom satellite, designed to bring Facebook to sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the setback, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the company was on-track to resume launches in mid-December.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX is one of Centennial-based United Launch Alliance’s greatest competitors in the commercial space flight sector and a leading voice in the argument for entrepreneur-led space ventures.

United Launch Alliance is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. The Centennial-based partnership formed in December 2006 to provide launch services to the U.S. government.

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at caiello@denverite.com or twitter.com/chlobo_ilo.

Subscribe to Denverite’s newsletter here.