NASA will launch the Airbus-built replacement satellites for the U.S.-German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite duo aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the first quarter of 2018, Space Flight Now reported Tuesday.
The space agency inked a shared launch agreement with Iridium and the Helmholtz Center-Potsdam German Research Center for Geosciences called GFZ to launch the GRACE-FO tandem alongside Iridium communications payloads.
GRACE will perform its final science collection mission in mid-October prior to its decommissioning in November after 15 years worth of in-space service.
“As the fuel is exhausted, there will be a few final satellite settings to be made in terminating control of the satellites and then the team will let the mission end as the satellite altitude decreases, in an uncontrolled manner, due to the effects of atmospheric drag,” said Alan Buis, spokesman for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Matt Desch, Iridium CEO, said that the GRACE-FO launch will be sixth in the deployment sequence of the company’s next-generation voice and data relay constellation which will be around February to March 2018.
NASA initially planned to launch the GRACE-FO satellites on the Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rocket, but the Russian government suspended the platform’s launch.