USU’s SDL is building specialized instrument for NASA space weather mission

An image taken from the International Space Station shows orange swaths of airglow hovering in Earth’s atmosphere. NASA’s new Atmospheric Waves Experiment will observe this airglow from a perch on the space station to help scientists understand, and ultimately improve forecasts of, space weather changes in the upper atmosphere. Credits: NASA

NORTH LOGAN – With a contract from NASA, the Utah State University Space Dynamics Lab (SDL) has begun work to figure out how to deal with large weather events above the earth’s atmosphere which create gravity waves that can disturb satellite communications.

Burt Lamborn, project manager, said SDL’s involvement in the mission — NASA’s Atmospheric Waves Experiment or AWE — will be centered in Logan.

“We will be designing and manufacturing an instrument that NASA will launch up to the International Space Station for us,” Lamborn explained, “and the data will come from the space station through NASA assets right to the Space Dynamics Lab and then to Utah State University for additional processing and then out to the world and the science community.”

Lamborn said the instrument will be ready for launch to the space station in late-2022.

“Once we’re ready to launch we will hand the instrument off to NASA,” he added. “There are a lot of moving parts associated with rides up to the space station, so it may not launch within a month after we’re ready. It may wait for three or four months until the appropriate ride.

“They haven’t sorted all that out yet, they expect to know in the next six months or so what the manifest schedule is for the launch vehicles heading up to the space station in that time frame.”

Lamborn said an SDL team of 50 is designing the device with four telescopes enclosed in a cylinder which will eventually be installed on the International Space Station.

He said the upper atmosphere region that AWE surveys — called the mesopause — is Earth’s window to space weather.

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