Set for launch in November, the Earth-observing satellite will closely monitor sea level and provide atmospheric data to support weather forecasting and climate models.
On Nov. 10, the world’s latest Earth-observing satellite will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. As a historic U.S.-European partnership, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft will begin a five-and-a-half-year prime mission to collect the most accurate data yet on global sea level and how our oceans are rising in response to climate change. The mission will also collect precise data of atmospheric temperature and humidity that will help improve weather forecasts and climate models.
The joint U.S.-European Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is the next in a line of Earth-observing satellites that will collect the most accurate data yet on sea level and how it changes over time. With millimeter-scale precision, data from this mission will allow scientists to precisely measure sea surface height and gauge how quickly our oceans are rising.
The spacecraft is named after Dr. Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division and a tireless advocate for advancing satellite measurements of the ocean. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich builds on the heritage of the ESA (European Space Agency) Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission as well as the heritage and legacy of the U.S.-European TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason-1, 2, and 3 series of sea level observation satellites. Launched in 2016, Jason-3 is currently providing data initiated with the observations of TOPEX/Poseidon in 1992.
The data from these satellites has become the gold standard for sea level studies from space over the past 30 years. In 2025, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich’s twin, Sentinel-6B, is scheduled to launch and advance these measurements for at least another half decade.
“This continuous record of observations is essential for tracking sea level rise and understanding the factors that contribute to it,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “With Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, we ensure those measurements advance both in number and in precision. This mission honors an exceptional scientist and leader, and it will continue Mike’s legacy of advances in ocean studies.”
So how will Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich further our ocean and climate knowledge? Here are five things you should know:
1. The spacecraft will provide information that will help researchers understand how climate change is reshaping Earth’s coastlines – and how fast this is happening.
Earth’s oceans and atmosphere are inextricably connected. The sea absorbs more than 90% of the heat trapped by rising greenhouse gases, which causes seawater to expand. This expansion accounts for about one-third of modern-day sea level rise, while meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets accounts for the rest.