NASA and Rocket Lab launch mission to study Arctic ice caps

15 Aug 2023

Image: © sdecoret/

Rocket Lab will help NASA launch two small satellites next year that will study how much of Earth’s heat is lost to space.

NASA is teaming up with US-based launch service provider Rocket Lab to research naturally occurring radiation at the Arctic and its implications for the climate crisis.

The publicly traded company announced yesterday (14 August) that it will help NASA launch two small satellites to a 525km circular low Earth orbit from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand from May 2024.

Part of NASA’s polar radiant energy in the far-infrared experiment (PREFIRE), the mission will help scientists understand how much of Earth’s heat is lost to space, especially from the Arctic and Antarctica.

The results will inform climate and ice models, providing better projections of how a warming world will affect sea ice loss, ice sheet melt and sea level rise. This could provide more accurate projections on the impacts of storm severity and frequency, as well as coastal erosion and flooding.

Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab, said that missions like these are “core to the whole reason why Rocket Lab was founded in the first place – to open up access to space to improve life on Earth – and climate change is a hugely urgent cause for us all”.

“It’s a privilege to be able to support this important mission and an honour to be a continued trusted launch provider for small satellite missions with big impact,” he added.

The launches will be the 7th and 8th missions California-headquartered Rocket Lab has launched for NASA since 2018. Other missions it was involved in include the CAPSTONE mission to the moon and the TROPICS satellites for hurricane monitoring.

News of the collaboration with NASA comes as Rocket Lab reported its second quarter earnings, largely meeting Wall Street expectations and adding contracts for 10 more launches in 2023 and 2024.

The Nasdaq-listed company reported a net loss of $45.9m and revenue grew 12pc year over year in the second quarter to $62m.

Earlier this year, IBM teamed up with NASA to apply AI foundation models on the vast amounts of geospatial data collected by the space agency to gain insights into Earth’s climate. This month, they open-sourced the large geospatial foundation model on open-source AI platform Hugging Face.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic