Satellite systems are a key part of many of the things we rely on each day, from air travel to power grids. In order to better understand how space weather can affect satellites, NASA is working to study atmospheric waves from the International Space Station. Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Lab recently reached a key milestone in this experiment.
Mike Taylor is a physics professor at USU and is the principal investigator for NASA’s Atmospheric Waves Experiment. Until this project, he says the work of understanding how atmospheric weather affects the upper atmosphere was ground based.
“Weather effects carry energy up into the upper atmosphere, where they can interrupt the ionosphere, which then interferes with GPS communications," said Taylor.
To understand the global scale of how atmospheric weather impacts space weather and in turn satellites, Taylor said global measurements need to be taken. The Space Dynamics Lab is building the instrument to take these measurements.
Burt Lamborn is managing the Atmospheric Waves Experiment at the Space Dynamics lab. He said the lab just received the approval from NASA to begin fabricating and testing the instrument, a process that will occur in parallel with prototype construction. The project should be ready to launch late next year.
He said one of the neatest things about this project is everything is centered at USU.
“And so basically, we're going to build this instrument, put it on the International Space Station, the data is going to come to Logan, is going to get processed and out to the worldwide science community,” said Lamborn. “So it's just a really neat thing that little old Logan gets to be in this position.”
The large instrument features a four-telescope array that will be mounted on the space station. It will focus observations on a layer of light in the upper atmosphere called the airglow layer.
Lamborn said the lab will manage the contract and project throughout the two-year orbit at their mission operations center. Students and researchers from around the world can use the data the project collects. In the future, Taylor said, this project opens the door to study the impact of waves on other planets.