CU-Boulder hitches a ride to space on commercial satellite

The GOLD instrument will ride onboard the SES GS commercial communications satellite, SES-14, shown above. (Courtesy Airbus Defense and Space SAS)

The GOLD instrument will ride onboard the SES GS commercial communications satellite, SES-14, shown above. (Courtesy Airbus Defense and Space SAS)

The University of Colorado announced today that it has awarded a five-year contract to SES Government Solutions (SES GS), of Reston, Va., to host a NASA-funded science instrument on board SES-14, a communications satellite to be stationed over the Americas.

The Global-Scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, a NASA Explorers mission led from the University of Central Florida and built and operated at the University of Colorado (CU-Boulder), will collaborate with SES GS to place a science instrument on a commercial satellite as a hosted payload. This is the first time a university and a commercial spacecraft operator have teamed to host a NASA science mission. At a cost of roughly 10% of a traditional science satellite, working with a communications satellite represents the most cost-effective way to reach geostationary orbit.

“Trying to catch a low-cost ride on a commercial satellite is like trying to catch a moving train, there’s lots of planning, and you need your timing to be perfect. Luckily we have a world class team and have done all of our planning to successfully negotiate the contract for SES GS,” said CU-Boulder aerospace engineer Rory Barrett of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), the GOLD deputy project manager.

GOLD—a new type of space weather monitor that measures the atmosphere’s response to solar storms and solar extreme ultraviolet emission—will be built and operated from LASP at CU-Boulder. GOLD will take unprecedented images of the Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere, detecting changes in temperature and composition due to space weather activity. This is a critical step in understanding how to predict the impact of space weather events on Earth.

“GOLD will allow us to see, for the first time, how the atmosphere responds to energetic events that last only a few hours,” said Bill McClintock, LASP senior research scientist and GOLD deputy principal investigator.

GOLD Principal Investigator, Richard Eastes, from the University of Central Florida (UCF) Florida Space Institute (FSI), oversees the GOLD mission. UCF will be responsible for disseminating data products. The University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) is developing the instrument and is responsible for science operations. Other members of the GOLD team supporting the mission include the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of California at Berkeley, Computational Physics, Inc., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Contacts: