The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite is scheduled to head into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Data collected by the satellite will inform scientists about the changes in sea levels around the world.
The new satellite will also collect measurements at higher resolution than its predecessors, allowing researchers to peer more closely at small ocean features, especially along the coastlines.
Other instruments on board will measure how radio signals pass through the atmosphere, providing data on atmospheric temperature and humidity that can help improve global weather forecasts.
“Traditionally, we measure sea level at the coastline with tide gauges and these are great records, some of them go back more than 100 years. So, they give us a historical perspective, but they’re only at those single points and the oceans cover more than two thirds of the planet’s surface,” explains JPL project scientist Josh Willis.
“So, if you want to see the whole thing, you have to do it from the bird’s eye view.”
The satellite is due to be carried into orbit on Saturday (November 21).
It is named after the late director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, Michael Freilich, an oceanographer who was instrumental in getting the U.S. space agency to join the mission.