The SWOT mission brings together two communities focused on a better understanding of the world's oceans and its terrestrial surface waters. U.S. and French oceanographers and hydrologists and international partners have joined forces to develop this satellite mission to make the first global survey of Earth's surface water, observe the fine details of the ocean's surface topography, and measure how water bodies change over time.


SWOT is being jointly developed by NASA and Centre National D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and United Kingdom Space Agency.

Launch Vehicle & Launch Date

NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for SWOT. Launch is targeted for December 15, 2022 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the SpaceX launch service.

Mission Development Timeline

SWOT was one of 15 missions listed in the 2007 National Research Council Decadal Survey of Earth science missions that NASA should implement in the subsequent decade (full report available here). In its earliest stages, the mission underwent Concept Studies (Pre-Phase A) and Concept & Technology Development (Phase A).

Mission lifecycle phases.
Mission lifecycle phases.

In early 2015, SWOT entered Phase B, Preliminary Design & Technology Completion. In 2016, SWOT was approved for implementation and thus entered Phase C (Final Design & Fabrication).

To learn more about SWOT's latest progress towards launch, visit the Flight Systems and Ground Systems pages. To learn about the airborne instrument making measurements similar to those that will be made in space by SWOT to prepare for the hydrology post-launch Cal/Val, visit the AirSWOT page.

SWOT will launch in Phase D. Approximately the first six months after launch, it will be in a "fast-sampling" phase with a 1-day repeat orbit at an altitude of 857 km (532.5 mi). This initial period will focus on achieving calibration and validation objectives while studying rapidly changing phenomena. Members of the international ocean science community may participate in this phase by creating programs to deploy in situ assets in the regions covered by the SWOT fast-sampling orbit. This will provide a global series of experiments with fine-scale ocean campaigns, as well as ground-based data for comparison with SWOT's daily 2-D sea surface height data. The fast-sampling phase will end with an increase in the observatory's altitude to 891 km (553.6 mi).

Phase E (Operations & Sustainment), nominally lasting three years, will have a 21-day repeat orbit to balance global coverage and frequent sampling. This non-sun-synchronous orbit was chosen to minimize tidal aliasing and ensure coverage of major water bodies on land. SWOT's 120-km-wide (~75-mi-wide) swath will result in overlapping measurements over most of the globe with an average revisit time of 11 days.

SWOT orbit timeline.
SWOT orbit timeline.


SWOT Calibration / Validation Plan (Initial Release)
(2018) This document provides the scope of planned Calibration and Validation (Cal/Val) activities for the SWOT Mission. It contains an overview of the objectives of Cal/Val work, details of planned Cal/Val activities, and provides the organizational context for how the work will be undertaken.

SWOT Project Mission Performance and Error Budget
(2017) This document presents the top-down error budget for the SWOT mission and its ability to meet the scientific requirements. It includes all of the different systems and subsystems that have a significant contribution to the overall performance of the mission.

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SWOT Science Requirements Document
(2018) The SWOT mission is a partnership between two communities, physical oceanography and hydrology, to share high vertical accuracy and high spatial resolution topography data produced by payload configuration for making swath measurement of the elevation of land surface water and ocean surface topography. This document summarizes the scientific objectives for each community.

SWOT Orbit Information
(2014) Information on SWOT orbit characteristics and requirements, as well as reference orbit and swath files.

SWOT Mission Science Document
(2012) This document summarizes the findings from meetings of the SWOT Science Working Group (SWG) with a purpose to provide information on the potential opportunities in science investigation and applications as well as on the preliminary design of the SWOT mission concept.