Tiny Satellites, Big Impact: NASA’s PREFIRE Mission to Combat Climate Change - Science Label

Tiny Satellites, Big Impact: NASA’s PREFIRE Mission to Combat Climate Change


In a significant leap for climate science, NASA has successfully launched the first of two CubeSats for the Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment (PREFIRE) mission. This mission aims to measure how much heat is being lost from Earth's polar regions, providing critical data to improve climate models and predictions.

Mission Overview

Launched on May 25, 2024, from Rocket Lab's site in New Zealand, the PREFIRE mission is set to fill a crucial gap in our understanding of Earth's energy budget. The mission's twin CubeSats will orbit the poles, capturing far-infrared radiation data that has never been systematically measured from space before. This information is essential for understanding the balance between incoming solar energy and outgoing heat from the planet​ (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL))​​ (Space.com)​.

Scientific Objectives

The primary goal of PREFIRE is to study the far-infrared wavelengths emitted from Earth's polar regions. This type of radiation plays a vital role in Earth's energy budget, influencing global temperature and climate. The data collected will help scientists understand how efficiently the Arctic and Antarctic radiate heat into space, which is a key factor in predicting climate changes​ (NASA Science)​​ (Space.com)​.

Technological Innovation

Each PREFIRE CubeSat is equipped with a thermal infrared spectrometer, a sophisticated instrument designed to measure infrared wavelengths. These spectrometers use specially shaped mirrors and sensors to capture detailed radiation data. Miniaturizing these instruments to fit on CubeSats required innovative engineering, balancing size constraints with the need for high precision​ (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL))​.

Importance for Climate Research

The Arctic and Antarctic regions are experiencing rapid changes due to global warming. The Arctic, for instance, has warmed three times faster than the global average, leading to significant sea ice loss. Understanding the heat dynamics in these regions is crucial for predicting future climate scenarios. The PREFIRE mission's data will enhance climate models, making them more accurate and helping scientists predict and mitigate the impacts of climate change​ (Space.com)​​ (Space.com)​.

Collaborative Efforts

The PREFIRE mission is a collaborative effort involving multiple institutions. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages the mission, while the University of Wisconsin-Madison processes the data collected by the instruments. Blue Canyon Technologies built the CubeSats, and Rocket Lab provided the launch services. This partnership highlights the collaborative nature of modern space missions, leveraging expertise from various fields to achieve groundbreaking scientific goals​ (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL))​​ (NASA Science)​.

Future Prospects

The second PREFIRE CubeSat is scheduled to launch within the next few weeks, further enhancing the mission's data collection capabilities. Together, these satellites will provide continuous coverage of the polar regions, offering new insights into how these critical areas are responding to climate change. The mission's findings are expected to have far-reaching implications for climate science, policy-making, and global efforts to combat climate change​ (Space.com)​.


NASA's PREFIRE mission represents a significant advancement in our ability to monitor and understand Earth's changing climate. By focusing on the polar regions, this mission will provide essential data to improve climate models and help predict future environmental changes. As PREFIRE continues its journey, it holds the promise of unlocking new secrets about our planet's climate system, aiding global efforts to safeguard the environment for future generations.


  1. NASA JPL. (2024). NASA Launches Small Climate Satellite to Study Earth’s Poles
  2. NASA Science. (2024). PREFIRE - NASA Science
  3. Space.com. (2024). NASA's twin spacecraft will go to the ends of the Earth to combat climate change
  4. Space.com. (2024). Rocket Lab launches NASA cubesat to study heat lost from Earth's poles
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