Called GRACE-FO, for short, the mission will detect the movement of Earth's water masses and changes in mass within the planet by measuring variations in gravity through tiny fluctuations in the distance between the two satellites as they orbit 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart -- roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego -- at an altitude of about 304 miles (490 kilometers).
A Chinese internet company called Bilibili will soon become the first in the country to launch its own satellite. It's being called an educational satellite launched "with the aim of inspiring a sense of wonder and curiosity in the scientific world amongst young people in China" according to the company. The bar for launching satellites into space is quickly falling thanks to mini satellite and micro satellite technology, which leverages shrinking components and the proliferation of sensing equipment related to the rise of mobile computing. With private companies such as China's iSpace offering payload services to space, companies and organizations have never had more access to the universe beyond our planet. Tiny, privately owned satellites are also giving the public new perspectives on earth and the cosmos, as well as access to technology that was previously the realm of governments. They're also helping companies offer compelling services and content to end users.
An H-IIA rocket carrying a government optical intelligence-gathering satellite is scheduled for launch in January, according to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. The device will join Japan's seven other reconnaissance satellites believed to be utilized for such purposes as monitoring developments at North Korean missile sites. The H-IIA rocket is set to lift off between 10 a.m. and noon Jan. 27 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, Mitsubishi Heavy said Monday. Japan operates two types of reconnaissance satellites -- optical satellites that take photos of the ground using a device similar to a digital camera, and radar satellites that can be used to capture images in the evening as well as in poor weather conditions. According to the government, Japan is currently operating five radar and two optical satellites, and aims to operate a total of 10 in the future.