Press Release

NASA Is Ready to Study Cool Ice, Hot Plasma, and Ocean Winds

By SpaceRef Editor
November 26, 2002
Filed under ,

The month of December will see the launch of three NASA
research missions to help us better understand and protect
our home planet while continuing to search for life in our
universe and inspire the next generation of explorers. The
ICESat, CHIPS and SeaWinds missions will help improve life
here while searching for life beyond Earth.

ICESat (Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite) is the
benchmark NASA mission for measuring ice-sheet mass balance –
– knowledge vital to understanding and protecting our home

The ICESat mission will use a laser instrument to provide
multi-year elevation data needed to determine ice-sheet mass
balance. The spacecraft also will provide surface and
vegetation data around the globe, in addition to specific
coverage over the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

ICESat is due to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base,
Calif. on Dec. 19 at approximately 7:45 p.m. EST. Once in its
final orbital position, the satellite will orbit the Earth at
an altitude of approximately 373 miles (600 kilometers).

“This mission will provide revolutionary insight into changes
in ice and the role ice plays in our Earth system, using a
spaceborne laser to look at the topography of ice both in the
Antarctic and Greenland,” said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, NASA’s
Associate Administrator for Earth Science. “This information
will help scientists determine whether the polar ice sheets
are growing or shrinking, and how the ice masses may change
under future climate conditions,” Asrar said.

The Geoscience Laser Altimeter System, or “GLAS” instrument,
on ICESat will use a laser to measure the time it takes for
light to travel to the reflecting object and return to the
satellite. The data on the distance to the surface, the
position of the satellite in space, and the pointing of the
laser are all combined to calculate the elevation and
position of each point measurement on the Earth. The laser
will perform these measurements 40 times each second.

The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies
Corporation (Ball) in Boulder, Colo. NASA’s Earth Science
Data and Information System will provide space and ground
network support and the University of Colorado’s Laboratory
for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder, will team with
Ball to provide mission operations and flight dynamics
support. The GLAS and ICESat data will be initially processed
at the ICESat Investigator-led Processing System facility
with support from the University of Texas’s Center for Space
Research, Austin.

Launching with ICESat is NASA’s first University-Class
Explorer mission, a suitcase-sized satellite called the
Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer (CHIPS), designed
to explore the birthplace of solar systems. CHIPS will study
very hot, very low-density gas in the vast spaces between the
stars, known as the interstellar medium, searching for
important clues about formation and evolution of galaxies.

The interstellar medium literally contains the seeds of
future stars, and all the stars we see were once formed out
of the same kind of diffuse gas and dust. When the gas in the
interstellar medium cools and collapses, the gas forms clumps
that scientists believe evolve into stars and planets. One of
the biggest puzzles in astrophysics is the process that turns
this very diffuse, hot and cold gas and dust into stars.

Our solar system is located in a region of space scientists
call the Local Bubble, which is about 300 light-years in
diameter and is filled with gas much less dense than the
average interstellar medium. This gas also is extremely hot –
– about 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit, or about 180 times as
hot as the surface of our Sun. It is this extremely diffuse
gas inside the Local Bubble that the CHIPS mission is

The CHIPS satellite weighs 60 kilograms (132 pounds) and is
the size of a large suitcase. It will orbit about 590
kilometers (367 miles) above the Earth and is expected to
operate for one year.

The CHIPS satellite is sponsored by the Office of Space
Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The CHIPS
instrument was built at the Space Science Laboratory of the
University of California, Berkeley, and the spacecraft bus
was built by SpaceDev, Inc. of Poway, Calif. The project is
managed at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops
Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., through the NASA
Explorers Program.

A third NASA mission, SeaWinds, is NASA’s latest Earth-
monitoring instrument for measuring the speed and direction
of winds over Earth’s oceans. Set to launch aboard Japan’s
Advanced Earth Observing Satellite II (Adeos II) at 8:31 p.m.
EST on Dec.13 from the Tanegashima Space Center, the mission
is expected to yield improved global weather forecasts and
new insights into various Earth research investigations.

“Winds play a major role in every aspect of Earth’s weather,”
Asrar said. “They directly affect the turbulent exchanges of
heat, moisture and greenhouse gases between Earth’s
atmosphere and the ocean that drive ocean circulation and
climate. The SeaWinds instrument will provide a critical tool
for improving weather forecasting, detecting and monitoring
severe marine storms, identifying subtle changes in the
global climate and better understanding global weather
abnormalities, such as El Nino and La Nina. NASA is pleased
to partner with Japan on this important endeavor.”

The mission will help scientists determine the location,
structure and strength of severe marine storms — hurricanes
in the Atlantic, typhoons near Asia and mid-latitude cyclones
worldwide — which are among the most destructive of all
natural phenomena. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), a chief mission partner, will use the
data to improve weather forecasting and storm warnings,
helping forecasters more accurately determine the paths and
intensities of tropical storms and hurricanes.

SeaWinds will map wind speed and direction across 90 percent
of the Earth’s ice-free oceans every two days. Up to 15 times
a day, Adeos II will beam down SeaWinds science data to
ground stations operated by NASA and the National Space
Development Agency of Japan, which will relay them to
scientists and weather forecasters.

SeaWinds is a scatterometer, which transmits high-frequency
microwave pulses to the ocean surface and measures the
“backscattered,” or echoed, pulses as they are bounced back
to the satellite. The instruments sense ripples caused by
winds near the ocean’s surface, from which scientists can
compute the winds’ speed and direction.

The 200-kilogram (441-pound) SeaWinds instrument will be
launched aboard the Adeos II satellite by a Japanese H-IIA
rocket. The satellite will circle Earth every 101 minutes at
an altitude of 803 kilometers (499 miles). The SeaWinds
instrument will make approximately 400,000 measurements every

SeaWinds is managed for NASA’s Office of Earth Science,
Washington, by JPL, which developed the instrument and
performs instrument operations and science-data processing,
archiving and distribution. The Japanese Space Agency
provided the Adeos II spacecraft, H-IIA launch vehicle,
mission operations and the Japanese ground network. NOAA
provides near-real-time data processing and distribution for
SeaWinds operational data users.

More information about the ICESat program is available at:

More information on the CHIPS is available at:

More information on the SeaWinds on Adeos II is available at:

SpaceRef staff editor.