The Next Big Thing: NASA To Launch Small Satellites To Study The Planet Earth

First Posted: Nov 09, 2016 02:26 AM EST

NASA is going to launch Earth-observing small satellites in November and the coming year. They aim to study the changing planet Earth including its weather patterns, climate change and other significant science issues.

Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said that NASA is increasingly utilizing small satellites to undertake important science problems across their mission portfolio. He further said that they also provide them the opportunity to test new technological innovations in space and broaden the participation of students and researchers to get hands-on experience with space systems.

According to NASA, the satellite sizes range from a loaf of bread to a small washing machine. They weigh from a few to 400 pounds. Their small sizes cut down costs for testing new technologies and conducting science. These satellites help in advancing scientific and human exploration, lessen the cost of new missions and expand access to space.

The RAVAN (Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes) will be initiated this month of November. It is a CubeSat that identifies slight changes in the Earth's energy budget at the top of the atmosphere. This involves comprehending the greenhouse gas effects on climate.

In December, the CYGNSS (Cyclone, Global Navigation Satellite System) will also be launched. This is NASA's first Earth Science small satellite constellation. They would gather data about tropical cyclones and gauge the wind intensity over the ocean. These eight microsatellites use reflections from GPS signals off the ocean to observe surface winds and air-sea interactions in rapidly evolving cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons in the tropics.

Meanwhile, in 2017, there will be two CubeSats that are scheduled to be launched in the International Space Station. They aim to observe at the clouds that would aid scientists in studying and understanding the clouds and their role in climate and weather.

Space reports that another mission called TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation) will be introduced, too. This mission consists of 12 CubeSats and will study the tropical cyclones and gauge and track the air pollution. The size of the satellites is just like the size of a milk carton and weigh around 8 lbs., according to William Blackwell, the principal investigator for TROPICS.


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