Washington: NASA is launching a suite of six next-generation, small satellite missions – ranging in size from a loaf of bread to a small washing machine – that will debut new approaches to measure the Earth’s hurricanes, energy budget and weather.
Their small size keeps development and launch costs down as they often hitch a ride to space as a “secondary payload” on another mission’s rocket – providing an economical avenue for testing new technologies and conducting science.
“NASA is increasingly using small satellites to tackle important science problems across our mission portfolio,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
“They also give us the opportunity to test new technological innovations in space and broaden the involvement of students and researchers to get hands-on experience with space systems,” said Zurbuchen.
Small-satellite technology has led to innovations in how scientists approach Earth observations from space.
These new missions, five of which are scheduled to launch during the next several months, will demonstrate innovative new approaches for studying our changing planet.
“NASA is expanding small satellite technologies and using low-cost, small satellites, miniaturised instruments, and robust constellations to advance Earth science and provide societal benefit through applications,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington.
Scheduled to launch this month, RAVAN, the Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes, is a CubeSat that will demonstrate new technology for detecting slight changes in Earth’s energy budget at the top of the atmosphere – essential measurements for understanding greenhouse gas effects on climate.
In spring 2017, two CubeSats are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station for a detailed look at clouds.
Data from the satellites will help improve scientists’ ability to study and understand clouds and their role in climate and weather.
IceCube, developed by Dong Wu at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, will use a new, miniature, high-frequency microwave radiometer to measure cloud ice.
HARP, the Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter, developed by Vanderlei Martins at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in Baltimore, will measure airborne particles and the distribution of cloud droplet sizes with a new method that looks at a target from multiple perspectives.
MiRaTA – the Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration mission – is scheduled to be launched in early 2017 packs many of the capabilities of a large weather satellite into a spacecraft the size of a shoebox, according to principal investigator Kerri Cahoy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
MiRaTA’s miniature sensors will collect data on temperature, water vapour and cloud ice that can be used in weather forecasting and storm tracking. PTI
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