The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Saturday, November 21st. Notoriously known for the marine layer that covers this area in fog and often obstructs the view of rocket launches, I had low expectations (but high hopes) for good visibility of the Sentinel-6 launch. At T-0 on launch day, we had beautiful fall weather, low winds, and clear skies, and Sentinel-6 launched with spectacular views.
Given the launch vehicle was a SpaceX Falcon-9, I also got to see the first stage booster return and safely land at the launch platform, which was another incredible site and experience. Below are some pictures from the launch and me with my “lucky” JPL peanuts. My husband also captured some great photos of the launch and booster landing that you can see on his blog here.
I worked on Sentinel-6 for almost four years, starting in 2016, and you can learn more about the mission and my role in a previous blog post: Earth, My Favorite Planet. Although I finished up my work on Sentinel-6 in early 2020, I was fortunately tapped to be a part of the public outreach and media activities for the launch. I have done a number of outreach activities in the past and a few recorded videos for JPL media, but this was my first time participating in live, televised events that anyone in the world (with an Internet connection) could watch. At first I was nervous about representing JPL to such a wide audience and conveying all the great work and science goals of the mission, but I started to get the hang of it after a while. :) You can watch recordings of my “Behind the Spacecraft” Q&A talk, NASA EDGE interview (starts at 32:24), and NASA Launch Show interview (starts at 1:16:16), and below are a few snapshots from these events.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich was renamed in 2019 to honor Dr. Michael Freilich. Dr. Freilich was the director for NASA’s Earth Sciences Division for more than 12 years, and he was a major proponent for ocean observation missions and international collaborations. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Freilich in 2018 when I presented for the RainCube mission, which I have managed since 2015 and is funded by NASA’s Earth Sciences Division. Initially a big skeptic about leveraging small and cheap CubeSats for critical science tasks, Dr. Freilich quickly became one of our biggest supporters once he saw the on-orbit data from RainCube and other Earth Science CubeSat missions. In true fashion for a scientist, Dr. Freilich modified his views of CubeSats when presented with objective data that proved their validity and potential. Dr. Freilich lost his battle with cancer in August 2020, and I conveyed to my team on RainCube that we must continue to prove the skeptics wrong and make Dr. Freilich proud.
Getting to see our hard work pay off with a breathtaking launch, participating in outreach events to explain the Sentinel-6 mission and our work at JPL to the public, and being a part of this beautiful honor to Dr. Michael Freilich have been highlights of my career, and I’m looking forward to the next adventure.