Three years ago, one of the first policy proposals of a newly formed Trump Administration was to cut spending by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Earth science missions engaged in "climate change research." The Administration's 2018 budget submitted to Congress proposed eliminating some $250 million in climate change research.

Congress moved quickly to restore these funds to the budget, however, and now one of the missions, that was destined to fall to the budgetary axe, is going to soar into space instead -- atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket.

NASA logo

Image source: NASA.

The mission in question, dubbed Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem, or PACE, aims to collect "global ocean color, cloud, and aerosol data that will provide unprecedented insights into oceanographic and atmospheric responses to Earth's changing climate."  

Practically speaking, the space agency notes that "PACE's data will help us better understand how the ocean and atmosphere exchange carbon dioxide." In other applications, PACE could also "help identify the extent and duration of harmful algal blooms," such as have devastated Chilean salmon harvests repeatedly in recent years, damaging profits at fish companies and raising prices for restaurateurs.  

Meanwhile for SpaceX, winning the PACE launch contract is further evidence that the space company's launch prices, costing as little as $62 million for most missions -- and even as little as $50 million for some (government-sponsored missions, with attendant red tape, tend to cost more) -- are getting very hard for incumbent space providers such as United Launch Alliance to beat.