September 18, 2012

NASA ER-2 Aircraft Helping To Test New Science Instruments

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

NASA will be using an ER-2 high altitude research aircraft to fly test models of two future satellite instruments.

The aircraft will be used to take models of these instruments at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet to gather information researchers will use to develop ways to handle data that future space born versions will collect.

One of the space agency's ER-2 research aircraft has left its home at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, California, and is being relocated to Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.

The aircraft will be carrying the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) and the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experiment Lidar (MABEL) up to high altitudes for tests.

CATS is a high spectral resolution lidar that uses a laser to help scientists have a better understanding of clouds and aerosols.

The instrument was designed as a test instrument for the future Aerosol-Cloud Ecosystems (ACE) satellite mission and a version of CATS will be installed on the International Space Station in 2013.

MABEL is a laser altimeter built to simulate the primary instrument on ICESat-2, which will study land, sea ice and vegetation.

A NASA ER-2 aircraft carrying MABEL in April flew surveys of land and sea ice out of Keflavik, Iceland.

MABEL will be used this time around to measure vegetation along the U.S. East Coast, providing data for development methods to determine the amount and thickness of vegetation coverage.

Kelly Brunt, a cryospheric scientist at NASA´s Goddard Space Flight Center, said this is a challenging task because it involves measuring both the tops of tree canopies and ground level at the same time.

"We can't get the type of vegetation canopy we need flying out of Dryden," Brunt said in a statement.

ER-2 will also be carrying a Cloud Physics Lidar (CPL) instrument that will be used to detect clouds and aerosols that could hinder MABEL's performance.

"We need to know what's between MABEL and the surface," McGill said in the statement.

The flights coincide with NASA's Hurricane and Severe Storms Sentinel (HS3) campaign, which is a mission that sees an unpiloted aircraft fly over hurricanes and severe storms to measure properties like wind, temperature, precipitation, humidity and aerosol profiles.