Press Release

UCF Project Selected for NASA Explorer Mission

By SpaceRef Editor
July 15, 2008
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NASA last week selected a University of Central Florida project that will measure the temperature and make-up of the Earth’s outer atmosphere as one of two missions of opportunity under its Explorer science space program. The Global-Scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) project led by UCF Physicist Richard Eastes will build and fly a special camera known as an imaging spectrograph to record images of ultraviolet light emitted by the atmosphere approximately 62 miles above the Earth’s surface.

The data are important because they help predict space weather. Space weather impacts electrical systems on the ground and disrupts satellites orbiting the earth. Businesses and consumers have come to rely more and more on satellites, which are essential for cell phone, television and GPS navigation systems. GOLD will be able to measure from a satellite orbiting in sync with the earth, meaning the data can be collected across an entire hemisphere throughout the day.

Eastes, who conducts his research at UCF’s Florida Space Institute at Kennedy Space Center, has focused on GOLD for the last three years. While he serves as the scientific lead on the project, researchers from UCF’s Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) and the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science have developed the hardware and optics required for the mission and will process the data from the spectrograph. A University of Colorado team will build the camera, which is expected to be the size of a breadbox, and collect the data.

“It was necessary to make a convincing case that we could build the instrument, get it into orbit, and use the data for important new science,” Eastes said. He added that one of the key factors in UCF’s securing the project was the team’s ability to secure a commercial satellite to carry the camera, about the size of a breadbox, into space. “There has never been a NASA science instrument flown on a commercial communications satellite,” he said.

NASA’s Explorer program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for physics missions with small to mid-sized spacecraft. More than 70 U.S. and cooperative missions have been launched under the program since it was established in 1958. The GOLD project was one of two missions of opportunity selected from 17 applicants. The other project will provide an instrument for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s New exploration X-Ray telescope to study black holes and extreme environments in the universe.

Eastes and his team will initially receive $250,000 to develop a concept study by the end of the year.

UCF’s team members include: Professors James Harvey of CREOL; Hassan Foroosh, Jun Wang and Huiyang Zhou from the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Andrey Krywonos, a recent Ph.D. graduate from CREOL. In addition to the University of Colorado, partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space weather prediction center, the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Altitude Observatory, the University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and Computation Physics, Inc.

UCF Stands For Opportunity –The University of Central Florida is a metropolitan research university that ranks as the 6th largest in the nation with more than 48,000 students. UCF’s first classes were offered in 1968. The university offers impressive academic and research environments that power the region’s economic development. UCF’s culture of opportunity is driven by our diversity, Orlando environment, history of entrepreneurship and our youth, relevance and energy. For more information visit http://news.ucf.edu

SpaceRef staff editor.