New tiny satellites to help study Earth’s atmosphere from space

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Washington, Feb 23 (IANS) Inspired by the CubeSats technology where cube-shaped satellites are set to help scientists study the Earth’s atmosphere like never before, the US space agency has selected four new projects to be developed, built, and launched into low-Earth orbit.

These tiny satellites are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand or as big as a large shoebox.

“Validating these new compact instrument subsystems today will enable the relevant constellation measurements of the future,” said Charles Norton, program associate of the Earth Science Technology office (ESTO) from Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech.

The four new CubeSat selections are CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology Validation (CubeRRT), Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space (CIRiS), CubeSat Infrared Atmospheric Sounder (CIRAS) and Precipitation Profiling Radar in a CubeSat (RainCube).

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CubeRRT is a project to observe, detect and mitigate radio frequency interference (RFI) for microwave radiometers – an instrument that measures Earth’s properties, including atmospheric water vapor or soil moisture.

CIRiS will adapt an existing instrument to be CubeSat compatible to validate instrument performance in low-Earth orbit.

The CIRiS mission will also validate data processing algorithms as well as on-orbit instrument calibration – important for enabling new instruments that could be used in a variety of missions.

CIRAS is designed to develop a CubeSat-size instrument system capable of matching the temperature and water vapour profile measurements in the lower troposphere of the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) an instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite and the Cross Track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) – an instrument on the NASA/NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System.

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RainCube will be the first active radar on a CubeSat platform. It will use a very compact deployable antenna and new processing technologies to validate a Ka-band precipitation radar.

A constellation of RainCube satellites would be able to provide the temporal resolution for weather observations that could be used to improve forecasting models.

“These quick-turnaround projects, once validated, have the potential to improve and supplement Earth science observations available to researchers worldwide covering topics from weather to climate, and soil moisture to land use,” the US space agency said in a statement.

The four newly-selected CubeSats, each measuring 10x20x30 centimeters, received funding through a recent solicitation held by NASA’s In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) programme.

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