Thirst for Knowledge: Understanding the Future of Water

It’s easy to take clean drinking water for granted when all it takes to quench your thirst is to open the nearest spigot. But did you know only 2.5 percent of the Earth’s water is fresh? And just one percent of that freshwater is readily accessible, with the remainder frozen in glaciers or fallen snow.

Monitoring our freshwater resources is vital to sustaining life on Earth. Water comprises 70 percent of the planet’s surface. So given gravitational effects, climate change, shifting glaciers, flooding, drought, water storage and other aquatic phenomena – whether nature or human influenced – understanding and predicting the global flow of this precious resource is ever more imperative.

To track Earth’s dynamic gravity field and water movement, NASA launched the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission – sending twin satellites into Earth’s orbit in 2002. More than fifteen years later, GRACE’s revolutionary data collection work continues, with the successful launch of the GRACE Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a collaboration between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences. On May 22, 2018, GRACE-FO shared a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with five Iridium NEXT communications satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. GRACE-FO’s primary mission is to continue precision mapping of Earth’s gravitational field and water cycles, while demonstrating the efficacy of an experimental technology to deliver even more precise scientific data through advanced satellite-to-satellite tracking.

It takes a team of mission-tested experts to ensure GRACE-FO’s successful launch and operation. Via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Space Communication Network Services (SCNS) program, the Peraton team delivered just that with mission integration planning for network services spanning data processing, telemetry, command, tracking, and more. Peraton support began in the conceptual stages, and carried through to launch and into the early orbit phases (LEOP). The team also delivered nascent post-launch contact with the two spacecraft at NASA’s Near Earth Network (NEN) station in McMurdo, Antarctica; and subsequent contacts in Svalbard, Norway; Fairbanks, AK; and Wallops Island, VA.

Additive to GRACE-FO’s mission was the implementation and testing of International Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems Space Link Extension standard at multiple NEN ground stations. This standardized interface for the transport and management of space data is expected to reduce associated technical, management, and operational costs.

The Peraton team’s trusted partnership was cited by NASA’s GRACE-FO Mission Operations System Manager:

“I want to thank the entire team at GSFC, Wallops and at each of the NEN ground stations who contributed to preparing for and executing the very successful GRACE-FO LEOP activity. It’s been a great pleasure working with you all and I look forward to a very long and productive partnership! Commissioning of the two spacecraft has been progressing very well. There is still much more to do, but we are off to a great start thanks to your hard work!”

Peraton’s vital role on the GRACE-FO mission reflects our commitment to helping to solve the most daunting challenges facing humanity, in this instance, among other outcomes, aiding global access to life-sustaining water.