As satellites collect larger and larger amounts of data, engineers and researchers are implementing solutions to manage these huge increases.

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, which is part of the joint U.S.-European Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission, is the first NASA satellite to make use of this cloud system, though the amount of data returned by the spacecraft isn’t as large as the amount of data returned by many future satellites in the coming years.

Both the SWOT and NISAR missions, which are scheduled to launch in the near future, will generate about 100 gigabytes of data each day. One terabyte is about 1,000 gigabytes in size, which is equivalent to around 250 full-length feature films in digital storage. SWOT, an abbreviation for Surface Water and Ocean Topography, will generate approximately 20 terabytes of science data per day, while the NISAR (NASA-Indian Space Research Organization Synthetic Aperture Radar) mission will generate approximately 80 terabytes of science data per day, according to NASA. The data from SWOT will be stored with the Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center, while the data from NISAR will be archived with the Alaska Satellite Facility Distributed Active Archive Center, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NASA’s present Earth science data repository has about 40 petabytes (1 petabyte is 1,000 terabytes), but by 2025 – a few of years after the launch of SWOT and NISAR – the archive is projected to include more than 245 petabytes of data, according to the agency.

Both NISAR and SWOT will collect information via the use of radar-based sensors. NISAR, which is scheduled to launch in 2023, will monitor the planet’s surface, collecting data on environmental characteristics such as land shifts caused by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, changes in the Earth’s ice sheets and glaciers, and fluctuations in agricultural activities, wetlands, and the size of forests.

SWOT is scheduled to launch in 2022 and will measure the height of the planet’s surface water, including both ocean and fresh water. It will also assist researchers in compiling the first survey of the world’s fresh water and small-scale ocean currents, which will be published in 2023. SWOT analysis is being conducted jointly by NASA and the French space agency, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES).

According to Kevin Murphy, NASA’s chief scientific data officer for the Science Mission Directorate, “This is a new age for Earth observation missions, and the enormous quantity of data they will produce will need a new era for data processing.” In addition to coordinating efforts throughout the agency to provide efficient access to a shared cloud infrastructure, NASA is educating members of the scientific community to access, analyze, and make use of the information.

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