Engineers Check SWOT Science Instrument During Commissioning Activities

After launching in December 2022, the international Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission started commissioning activities – the six-month checkout period before the scientific mission begins. Commissioning has included turning on all the science instruments, among them the main science instrument, the Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIn), which engineers fully powered on in mid-January 2023. They received performance information, but in late January one of the instrument’s subsystems – the high-power amplifier – was unexpectedly shut down.

Engineers are working systematically to understand the situation and to restore operations, performing diagnostics and working with a test bed that simulates the KaRIn instrument on Earth. Once the KaRIn instrument is up and running again, the mission will continue with its commissioning and calibration activities – planned March through June – to ensure data accuracy in preparation for the beginning of science operations in July 2023.

Launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, SWOT is a collaboration between NASA and the French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales, with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency and the UK Space Agency. SWOT will take high-resolution measurements of the height of water in the world’s oceans and freshwater bodies. It will provide insight into the ocean’s role in climate change and help communities monitor and plan for changes in water resources and the effects of rising seas.