Press Release

Lockheed Martin Solar X-Ray Imager to be Launched on NOAA GOES-O Spacecraft

By SpaceRef Editor
June 20, 2009
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Lockheed Martin Solar X-Ray Imager to be Launched on NOAA GOES-O Spacecraft

The Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) instrument, designed and built by Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT – News) at its Space Systems Advanced Technology Center (ATC) is ready for flight.

Built for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md., SXI is awaiting launch – scheduled for June 26 – on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES-O spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. SXI is one of a suite of instruments that resides on the current generation of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES).

“We are extremely proud to have our second SXI instrument ready for launch and look forward to seeing it operating on-orbit,” said George Koerner, SXI program manager at the ATC. “While the main GOES instruments provide near-constant viewing of the Earth, SXI is designed to view the Sun and provide vital information regarding solar activity.”

The SXI will be used to aid NOAA and U.S. Air Force personnel in issuing forecasts and alerts of “space weather” conditions, and in developing a better understanding of sun-related phenomena that affect the Earth’s environment.

Turbulent “space weather” can affect radio communication on Earth, induce currents in electric power grids and long distance pipelines, cause navigational errors in magnetic guidance systems, upset satellite circuitry and expose astronauts to increased radiation.

SXI will observe solar flares, coronal mass ejections, coronal holes and active regions in the X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum from 6 to 60 A (Angstroms). These features are associated with solar wind shock waves, which if directed towards the Earth, can lead to geomagnetic storms. SXI will also examine flare properties, newly emerging active regions, and X-ray bright points on the Sun.

SXI will provide continuous, near real-time observation of the Sun’s corona, acquiring a full-disk image every minute. The images cover a 42 arc-minute field of view with five arc-second pixels.

The solar disk, as viewed from Earth, is approximately 32 arc-minutes in diameter. By recording solar images every minute, NOAA observers will be able to detect and locate the occurrence of solar flares. This is the name given to the explosive releases of vast amounts of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere. Since scientists are not yet able to predict the occurrence, magnitude or location of solar flares, it is necessary to continually observe the Sun to know when they are happening.

When a flare occurs, it may also result in the eruption of large clouds of ionized, or electrically charged, gas. A small fraction of the cloud is very energetic and if it travels towards the Earth, it can reach the Earth within a few minutes to hours of the flare being observed. These energetic particles pose a hazard to both astronauts and spacecraft.

Space weather events have resulted in large-scale failures of the North American power grid, greatly increased oil pipeline erosion, and have resulted in the loss of communication satellites. SXI also will monitor coronal holes — persistent sources of high-speed solar wind. As the Sun rotates every 27 days, these sources spray across the Earth like a lawn sprinkler and may be associated with recurring geomagnetic storms.

The Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory at the ATC has a long heritage of spaceborne solar instruments including the Soft X-ray Telescope on the Japanese Yohkoh satellite, the Michelson Doppler Imager on the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, the solar telescope on NASA’s Transition Region and Coronal Explorer, the Focal Plane Package on the Japanese Hinode satellite and the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager instruments on NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft. The laboratory also conducts basic research into understanding and predicting space weather and the behavior of our Sun including its impacts on Earth and climate.

The ATC is the research and development organization of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC). LMSSC, a major operating unit of Lockheed Martin Corporation, designs and develops, tests, manufactures and operates a full spectrum of advanced-technology systems for national security and military, civil government and commercial customers. Chief products include human space flight systems; a full range of remote sensing, navigation, meteorological and communications satellites and instruments; space observatories and interplanetary spacecraft; laser radar; ballistic missiles; missile defense systems; and nanotechnology research and development.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security company that employs about 146,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The corporation reported 2008 sales of $42.7 billion.

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SpaceRef staff editor.