Meet NASA’s PACE Spacecraft, Science Instruments

Photo of PACE encapsulation inside (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 payload fairings.
NASA and SpaceX technicians safely encapsulate NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 payload fairings on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: NASA Goddard/Denny Henry

As NASA and SpaceX teams continue to work toward liftoff of the agency’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) mission aboard a Falcon 9 rocket scheduled for 1:33 a.m. EST, here’s a look at some facts about the spacecraft and the science instruments on board: 

  • The PACE spacecraft stands about 10 feet tall and when fully fueled weighs 3,748 pounds. 
  • PACE’s propulsion system uses monopropellant hydrazine. A single tank holds about 518 pounds (235 kg) of hydrazine that feeds eight onboard thrusters. 
  • The spacecraft’s solar array is made of three panels. The array measures 100 inches by 173 inches and generates about 2.7 kilowatts of power at beginning of operation. 
  • The primary science instrument is the ocean color instrument. The instrument will monitor global phytoplankton distribution and record new observations of the color of the ocean which is determined by the interaction of phytoplankton and sunlight. 
  • PACE carries two other instruments called polarimeters which are contributed by a consortium based in the Netherlands and University of Maryland Baltimore County. 
  • The Spectro-polarimeter for Planetary Exploration (SPEXone) and the Hyper Angular Research Polarimeter (HARP2) will collect measurements on aerosols, small solid or liquid particles in the atmosphere, their relationship to cloud formations, and the interaction with sunlight to learn more about how they impact climate change. 
  • Together, the three instruments will contribute new and significant breakthroughs in aerosol-cloud-ocean research. 
  • PACE will operate in a sun-synchronous, polar orbit about 420 miles above the Earth’s surface. At an orbital velocity of 16,800 mph, it will orbit the Earth once every 98.3 minutes. 

Continue following live countdown coverage and upcoming launch milestones right here on the blog.