Before any NASA mission is launched, the spacecraft goes through weeks of harsh treatment. It’s strapped to a big table that shakes as hard as the pounding of a rocket launch. It’s bombarded with louder noise than a stadium rock concert. It’s frozen, baked, and irradiated in a vacuum chamber that simulates the extremes of space. The Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission (SWOT), a collaborative U.S.-French mission to monitor all the water on Earth’s surface, has passed these major tests. Now, except for a few final checks, SWOT is ready for its December launch.
Some of SWOT’s engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California have invested almost a decade in designing, building, and assembling this complex mission. Watching the instruments they’ve labored over go through the latest round of tests has been stressful, but the team has taken the process in stride. That’s because every part of SWOT, down to nuts and bolts, had been tested multiple times before the satellite entered the thermal vacuum chamber for the last time. The engineers say the earlier tests produced far more anxiety.