Sentinel-6A | Falcon 9 Block 5

Lift Off Time (Subject to change)
 November 21, 2020 – 17:17 UTC | 09:17 PST
Mission Name and what it is
 Sentinel-6A Michael Freilich, the first of two NASA/ESA satellites that will measure sea level change
Launch Provider (What rocket company is launching it?)
Customer (who’s paying for this?)


Falcon 9 Block 5 B1063.1
Launch Location
Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E, Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), California
Payload mass
 1440 kilograms (~3200 lbs)
Where’s the payload going?
66° inclination 1336 kilometer low-Earth orbit
How’s the weather?
The weather is currently 80% go for launch.
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Where will the first stage land?
 Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB)
Will they be attempting to recover the fairing?
Both fairing halves will be recovered from the water by NRC Quest
This will be the:
  • First time since October 2017 that 3 consecutive Falcon 9 flights have been on new boosters
  • 99th Falcon 9 launch
  • 43rd Falcon 9 Block 5 launch
  • 100th Falcon 9 mission
  • 108th SpaceX mission
  • 66th booster landing
  • 3rd landing attempt on LZ-4
  • 22nd RTLS landing
  • 16th consecutive landing
  • 22nd SpaceX launch of 2020 (new record for most SpaceX launches in a year)
  • 16th SpaceX launch from SLC-4E
  • 528 day turn around time of SLC-4E
  • 42nd Falcon 9 launch with the old strongback design
  • 95th orbital launch attempt of 2020

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Where to watch
SpaceX official Stream

Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, will be streaming. Starting at T-30 minutes; Come ask questions and join the conversation live!

Graphic by Geoff Barrett Rocket by Stanley Creative

What’s all this mean?

SpaceX will launch its Falcon 9 rocket from SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California. The rocket will be carrying the Sentinel-6A satellite. The joint NASA/ESA satellite will collect data on sea level changes and atmospheric conditions to improve weather forecasts and climate models.

The Rocket

The mission will be launching on SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. Falcon 9 is a partially-reusable two-stage launch vehicle. Falcon 9 has launched nearly 100 times, with one failure, since it’s debut in 2010. The latest version of the Falcon 9, Block 5, has launched 41 times since 2018, and has a 100% success rate.

The first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1D engines, each producing 845 kN (190,000 lbf) of thrust. The second stage is powered by a single vacuum-optimized Merlin 1D engine that produces 981 kN (221,000 lbf) of thrust.

The Falcon 9 is unique among orbital rockets in that it’s partially reusable. Following stage separation, stage two will continue onto orbit while stage one prepares for landing. Stage one will do a boostback burn to bleed off enough of its velocity to return to its launch site. Following that, it will do a reentry burn to slow down enough to survive the harshest parts of reentry.

The booster will use cold gas thrusters and titanium grid fins to control itself during descent. Just prior to landing, it will ignite its center E9 engine for the landing burn. The booster will deploy its landing legs for a soft landing at LZ-4, at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Falcon 9 at SLC-4E (Credit: SpaceX)

The Payload

The Sentinel-6 satellite will continue the oceanographic work of the Jason-3 satellite that was launched in 2016. Sentinel-6 is designed to help scientists study climate change and improve weather forecasting. Sentinel-6 is able to measure the sea level of 90% of the world’s oceans with millimeter accuracy, which is more accurate than any other satellite. It will also collect data on atmospheric temperature and humidity. Among other instruments, the satellite includes a radar altimeter for high-precision sea-surface topography measurements and a GNSS-RO (GNSS Radio Occultation) instrument to measure atmospheric temperature, pressure and water vapor.

The satellite’s full name, Sentinel-6A Michael Freilich, is a tribute to Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA’s Earth Science division who passed away earlier this year. Sentinel-6A’s twin satellite, Sentinel-6B, is scheduled to launch in 2025. The two Sentinel satellites will continue a decades-long mission of measuring climate change started by the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite in 1992.

Sentinel-6A inside payload fairing (Credit: NASA)
  1. Great info, except .. the link for ,”here’s where you can watch in person!” is for Florida. Do you have a link for California/Vandenberg? Thanks!

  2. Anyone have detailed launch timeline for the launch? Could not find it in the JPL press kit

  3. I’m in Los Angeles and want to try and go see the launch. Does anyone know the best place to see the launch/landing?

  4. What’s the difference between a launch and a mission? I see this is the 100th Falcon 9 mission but only it’s 99th Launch.

    1. This is because of AMOS-6, which counts as a mission but does not count as a launch. Usually we only quote launches, but as this is the 100th Falcon 9 mission it was important to add both of them.

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