NASA's next Earth missions will monitor extreme weather, take first global survey of surface water

This view from the Apollo 11 spacecraft shows the Earth rising above the moon's horizon. Credit: NASA/JSC

NASA has four more missions launching this year to gather essential data about our planet, from sea ice to air quality and weather.

NASA Earth Science Division Director Karen St. German told FOX Weather that while most people associate the space agency with studies of other worlds and space, NASA is just as focused on studying our home planet.

Currently, there are 24 Earth-science missions in orbit, and NASA will be launching four more by the end of 2022. 

"The observations from these missions feed modules and research that really increase our understanding of how the Earth is evolving and predict how that change will continue in the future," St. German said.

Already this year, NOAA and NASA's newest weather satellite, GOES-18, launched from Cape Canaveral on March 1 and later reached its home 22,236 miles above Earth. The satellite will track hurricanes, wildfires and provide advanced warnings for tornadoes and give advanced warnings of incoming space weather caused by solar flares. 

This summer, Astra will launch a constellation of small NASA satellites known as CubeSats under the TROPICS mission.

"It will be making lots of rapid measurements of the thermodynamics of tropical storm systems, and this will increase our understanding of how they work and the processes that drive significant and rapid evolution of tropical storms in their structure and intensity," St. German said.

This fall, NOAA and NASA are preparing to launch the third satellite in the Joint Polar Satellite System series, JPSS-2.

NOAA's JPSS-2 mission will help predict extreme weather conditions providing a holistic view of how all of Earth's systems are working together. The satellite will provide data to help forecasters track climate change.

JPSS-2 is scheduled to launch in September from California. 

At the end of the year, NASA's SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography) mission is scheduled to launch to low-Earth orbit, providing the most precise measurement of Earth's water from its oceans, lakes, wetlands and all bodies of water. 

According to NASA, SWOT will help scientists understand the impacts of climate change, including the ocean's ability to absorb heat and carbon dioxide.

"It will give us critical information to help us manage water and decisions in communities and industries across the country," St. German explained. 

SWOT will help western states dealing with drought, lack of snowpack and low reservoirs to know how much water they have. St. German said coastal communities facing flooding due to sea-level rise would also have SWOT information to help them prepare.

SWOT data will also help farmers manage crops and irrigation needs. 

SpaceX will launch the spacecraft from California in November.