Satellite Earth science missions don't start at the launch pad or even in orbit. They start years before when scientists test their new ideas for instruments that promise to expand our view and understanding of the planet. NASA scientists and engineers are working now to lay the groundwork for the Aerosol-Cloud-Ecosystem (ACE) mission, a satellite that "will dramatically change what we can do from space to learn about clouds and aerosols," said ACE science lead David Starr of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
How should the satellite's instruments be designed, and how can the data be turned into useful information for research? To find out, three teams have each developed prototype instruments that will be put to the test this month during the Polarimeter Definition Experiment (PODEX) in Southern California.
For three weeks starting Jan. 16, instrument teams will collect data during seven flights on the ER-2 a high-altitude aircraft based at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. By virtue of its ability to operate at altitudes up to 70,000 feet above the ground, the aircraft simulates the view from space.
The instruments flying on the ER-2 are a new class of polarimeters, an instrument that can give increasingly detailed information about aerosols and clouds. Aerosols are tiny airborne particles from a variety of sources such as from the tail pipe of a car to dust and sea spray lifted up by the wind. They can stay in the atmosphere for up to a week where they affect human health, cloud formation, precipitation and Earth's radiation budget. But the complex nature of aerosols and clouds poses challenges in deciphering their influence on climate.
As the instrument teams have demonstrated, however, there's more than one way to build a polarimeter. Testing the technology this month are three instrument teams led by: Brian Cairns, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New Yor
|Contact: Kathryn Hansen|
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center