Project Analyzing Impact Of Space Weather On Satellites Gets NASA Grants
April 14, 2013

Project Analyzing Impact Of Space Weather On Satellites Gets NASA Grants

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

The University of Central Florida (UCF) has received a $55 million grant from NASA toward the development and operation of an instrument that will investigate the impact of space weather on orbiting communication and navigation satellites, the Orlando-based institution announced Friday.

The mission is known as the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) project, and it will monitor Earth´s upper atmosphere from a geostationary orbit approximately 22,000 miles above the planet´s surface.

It is expected to collect information to enhance our understanding of how solar wind and geomagnetic storms can alter the atmosphere´s temperature and composition and disrupt satellites responsible for GPS, cellphone, and television broadcast signals. The GOLD mission could also provide information leading to safer airline traffic direction because of its analysis of how space elements affect communication signals.

UCF, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado, and McLean, Virginia commercial satellite company SES Government Solutions are collaborating on the project. UCF will oversee the project and will also construct the data center where all of the mission information will be collected, processed and distributed.

“It´s great to see something that my team and I have worked on for years selected for funding,” Richard Eastes, principle investigator for the GOLD mission, said in a statement. “It shows that other scientists think what we´re planning to do is some of the most important science in the world. And for UCF, it´s a chance to demonstrate that the university can play a more significant role in space research.

“It´s clear that NASA is interested in flying more instruments on commercial satellites. With today´s budgets, most science missions that need a geostationary orbit aren´t affordable unless they fly on a commercial satellite,” Eastes, who is also a research scientist with UCF´s Florida Space Institute, added.

LASP, who will build and help operate the instrument used for the mission, received $36 million in NASA grants for their work on the GOLD project, the Boulder, Colorado-based institution reported on Friday.

The instrument is known as an imaging spectrograph and is approximately the same size as a microwave oven. It weighs just about 60 pounds and is two feet in length, one foot in height and one foot in width, according to LASP officials. The imaging spectrograph will be launched into space as the payload for a communications satellite by SES.

LASP aerospace engineer Mark Lankton said his team “is extremely pleased to be working on this mission with Richard Eastes at the University of Central Florida, who we have been collaborating with for seven years. This mission is one of the first to involve a science instrument being launched on a communication satellite, which is a terrific idea and exactly the right way to run a quality mission on a smaller budget.”

“GOLD´s imaging represents a new paradigm for observing the boundary between Earth and space. It will revolutionize our understanding of how the sun and the space environment affect our upper atmosphere,” said Bill McClintock, the deputy principal investigator on the spectrograph and a senior research scientist at LASP.

Lankton added the mission will be focused primarily on the ionosphere and thermosphere (approximately 50 miles to 350 miles above Earth), and specifically on how those layers of upper atmosphere are impacted by the sun, as well as by atmospheric waves and tides from the planet´s lower atmosphere.