The NASA PREFIRE mission was launched to study the Earth’s polar regions

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Polar Radiant Energy in the Far Infrared Experiment, or PREFIRE, mission is sending two research satellites — shown here in an artist’s impression — to study how much heat is lost to space from Earth’s polar regions.

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NASA has launched the first of two research satellites to measure how much heat is being lost to space from the Arctic and Antarctica.

A shoebox-sized satellite Thrown away on Saturday at 7:42 p.m. local time (3:42 a.m. ET) on the Rocket Lab Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab’s launch complex in Mahia, New Zealand. The company confirmed the successful launch of the satellite at 8:35 p.m. local time (4:35 a.m. ET).

The climate science mission, called Polar Radiant Energy in the Far Infrared Experiment, or PREFIRE, aims to improve scientists’ understanding of how water vapor, clouds and other components of Earth’s atmosphere trap heat and prevent it from radiating into space.

Rocket Lab

Technicians integrated PREFIRE into the Rocket Lab Electron rocket payload fairing at the company’s facility in New Zealand on Wednesday.

The data collected will inform climate models and lead to better predictions of how a climate crisis will affect sea levels, weather, snow and ice. NASA said.

Earth absorbs more energy from the sun in tropical regions. Weather and ocean currents move that heat energy toward the poles, where the heat spreads upward into space. Much of that heat is in far-infrared wavelengths and has not been systematically measured before, NASA added.

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PREFIRE is composed of two cubesats equipped with specialized miniature heat sensors. The launch date of the second satellite will be announced soon after the launch of the first satellite, NASA said.

Once they’re both launched, the two satellites will be in asynchronous polar orbits — passing over a specific location at different times and looking at the same area within hours.

Doing so should allow satellites to collect data on events that take place on shorter time scales and require more frequent measurements — such as how the amount of cloud cover affects Earth’s temperature.

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