GOLD launches successfully onboard SES-14 satellite

Jan 25, 2018

UPDATE: SES-14 in good health and on track despite launch anomaly

NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) instrument, designed and built by LASP, launched today from Kourou, French Guiana aboard SES-14, a commercial communications satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space. GOLD will investigate the dynamic intermingling of space and Earth’s uppermost atmosphere—and is the first NASA science mission to fly an instrument as a commercially hosted payload.

Space is not completely empty: It’s teeming with fast-moving charged particles and electric and magnetic fields that guide their motion. At the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, the charged particles— called the ionosphere—co-exist with the upper reaches of the neutral atmosphere, called the thermosphere. The two commingle and influence one another constantly. This interplay—and the role terrestrial weather, space weather and Earth’s own magnetic field each have in it—is the focus of GOLD’s mission.

GOLD team successfully completes environmental testing

Dec 14, 2017

NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, instrument has successfully completed environmental testing at Airbus in Toulouse, France, in preparation for its groundbreaking mission to observe the nearest reaches of space. Scheduled for launch in late January 2018, GOLD will measure densities and temperatures in Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere.

GOLD is a NASA Mission of Opportunity that will fly an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph on the SES-14 geostationary commercial communications satellite, built by Airbus for SES. The two-channel imaging spectrograph—designed and built at LASP—will explore the boundary between Earth and space, a dynamic area of near-Earth space that responds both to space weather from above and to weather in the atmosphere from below.

Major space mystery solved using data from student satellite

Dec 13, 2017

A 60-year-old mystery regarding the source of some energetic and potentially damaging particles in Earth’s radiation belts is now solved using data from a shoebox-sized satellite built and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students at LASP.

The results from the new study indicate energetic electrons in Earth’s inner radiation belt—primarily near its inner edge—are created by cosmic rays born from explosions of supernovas, said the study’s lead author, LASP scientist Xinlin Li. Earth’s radiation belts, known as the Van Allen belts, are layers of energetic particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic field.

MAVEN mission sheds light on habitability of distant planets

Dec 13, 2017

How long might a rocky, Mars-like planet be habitable if it were orbiting a red dwarf star? It’s a complex question but one that NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission can help answer.

“The MAVEN mission tells us that Mars lost substantial amounts of its atmosphere over time, changing the planet’s habitability,” said David Brain, a MAVEN co-investigator at LASP. “We can use Mars, a planet that we know a lot about, as a laboratory for studying rocky planets outside our solar system, which we don’t know much about yet.”

At the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Dec. 13, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Brain, also a professor in the CU Boulder astrophysical and planetary sciences department, described how insights from the LASP-led MAVEN mission could be applied to the habitability of rocky planets orbiting other stars.

TSIS instrument package ready for lift-off to ISS

Dec 08, 2017

A solar instrument package designed and built by LASP to help monitor the planet’s climate is now set for launch Dec. 12 (no earlier than 11:20 AM MT) aboard a SpaceX rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The instrument suite is called the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) and was designed and built by LASP for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The contract value to LASP is $90 million and includes the instrument suite and an associated mission ground system in the LASP Space Technology Building on the CU Boulder East Campus Research Park.

Four decades and counting: TSIS continues measuring solar energy input to Earth

Nov 28, 2017

We live on a solar-powered planet. As we wake up in the morning, the Sun peeks over the horizon to shed light on us, blanket us with warmth, and provide cues to start our day. At the same time, our Sun’s energy drives our planet’s ocean currents, seasons, weather, and climate. Without the Sun, life on Earth would not exist.

For nearly 40 years, NASA has been measuring how much sunshine powers our home planet. This December, NASA is launching a dual-instrument package to the International Space Station to continue monitoring the Sun’s energy input to the Earth system. The LASP-built Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) will precisely measure total solar irradiance, a measurement required for establishing Earth’s total energy input. These data will give us a better understanding of Earth’s primary energy supply and help improve models simulating Earth’s climate.

Schneider honored for helping unravel mysteries of Mars

Nov 13, 2017

LASP research associate Nick Schneider has been awarded NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for his contributions to the success of NASA’s orbiting MAVEN mission now at Mars.

Schneider, also a University of Colorado Boulder professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences, is the lead scientist on the LASP-built Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) riding on NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft that arrived at Mars in 2014. LASP Associate Director for Science, Bruce Jakosky, is the principal investigator for the MAVEN mission.

NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal is given for individual efforts that have resulted in key scientific discoveries or contributions of fundamental importance in the field. Schneider was presented with the medal in a ceremony Oct. 31 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

LASP-led team to study evaporating atmospheres of “hot Jupiters”

Oct 31, 2017

A team led by LASP scientists, engineers, and students has been selected to build a tiny orbiting satellite to study the evaporating atmospheres of gigantic “hot Jupiters”—distant gaseous planets orbiting scorchingly close to their parent stars.

To date more than 100 gas giants have been discovered orbiting very close to their parent stars, said LASP planetary scientist, Kevin France, principal investigator on the four-year, $3.3 million effort funded by NASA. France and his colleagues believe the new study of hot Jupiters—some of which are so close to parent stars they orbit them in a matter of days—will help planetary scientists better understand the evolution of our own solar system.

LASP to collaborate on new Grand Challenge projects

Sep 20, 2017

The University of Colorado Boulder’s cross-campus Grand Challenge initiative this week announced the selection of three new additions to its portfolio starting this fall. The call for proposals, which was announced in June, funded one large research initiative at approximately $1 million per year and two smaller projects at $250,000 per year, each for at least three years. LASP will collaborate on the research initiative and on one of the two smaller projects.

The selections augment the current Grand Challenge portfolio, building on the accomplishments of Earth Lab, Integrated Remote and In Situ Sensing (IRISS), the university’s space minor, and the Center for the Study of Origins.

LASP scientists ready for Cassini’s grand finale

Sep 13, 2017

LASP planetary scientist Larry Esposito has been eying the fabulous rings of Saturn for much of his career, beginning as a team scientist on NASA’s Pioneer 11 mission when he discovered the planet’s faint F ring in 1979.

He followed that up with observations of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s rings from the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft, which carried instruments designed and built at LASP. Now, as the principal investigator for the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, Esposito and his Cassini colleagues are feeling a bit somber as the mission nears its end. The spacecraft has run out of fuel and will disintegrate in Saturn’s dense atmosphere early on the morning of Sept. 15.

The Voyager spacecraft: 40 years in space, surreal solar system discoveries

Aug 31, 2017

In 1977, two NASA space probes destined to forever upend our view of the solar system launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The identical spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, took off in in August and September 40 years ago and were programmed to pass by Jupiter and Saturn on different paths. Voyager 2 went on to visit Uranus and Neptune, completing NASA’s “Grand Tour of the Solar System,” perhaps the most exhilarating interplanetary mission ever flown.

CU Boulder scientists at LASP, who designed and built identical instruments for Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were as stunned as anyone when the spacecraft began sending back data to Earth.

Building education satellites: LASP leads international team

Aug 22, 2017

LASP has joined forces with universities and space agencies from around the world in an international effort to design and build small satellites as a way to train future scientists and engineers.

The project, known as the International Satellite Program in Research and Education (INSPIRE), so far involves seven nations—the U.S., France, Taiwan, Japan, India, Singapore and Oman—says Project Manager and LASP engineer Amal Chandran.

The aim of INSPIRE is to establish a long-term academic program for developing a constellation of small satellites and a global network of ground stations, Chandran explains.

TSIS shipped to Kennedy Space Center for upcoming launch

Aug 04, 2017

A solar instrument package designed and built by LASP, considered a key tool to help monitor the planet’s climate, has arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a targeted November launch.

The instrument suite is called the Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) and was built for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The contract value to LASP is $90 million and includes the dual instrument suite and an associated ground system to manage TSIS mission operations.

CHESS mission will check out the space between stars

Jun 23, 2017

Deep in space between distant stars, space is not empty. Instead, there drifts vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as charged plasma particles called the interstellar medium—that may, over millions of years, evolve into new stars and even planets. These floating interstellar reservoirs are the focus of the NASA-funded CHESS sounding rocket mission, which will check out the earliest stages of star formation.

CHESS—short for the Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph—is a sounding rocket payload that will fly on a Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket late in the night on June 26, 2017. CHESS measures light filtering through the interstellar medium to study the atoms and molecules within, which provides crucial information for understanding the lifecycle of stars.

1,000 Days in Orbit: MAVEN’s Top 10 Discoveries at Mars

Jun 16, 2017

NASA’s MAVEN mission to Mars led by LASP and the University of Colorado Boulder will hit a happy milestone on Saturday, June 17: 1,000 days of orbiting the Red Planet.

Since its launch in November 2013 and its orbit insertion in September 2014, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) has been exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars, said LASP associate director and CU Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator of the mission. MAVEN is bringing insight into how the sun stripped Mars of most of its atmosphere, turning a planet once possibly habitable to microbial life into a barren desert world.

NASA’s Van Allen Probes spot man-made barrier shrouding Earth

May 17, 2017

Humans have long been shaping Earth’s landscape, but now scientists know we can shape our near-space environment as well. A certain type of communications—very low frequency, or VLF, radio communications—have been found to interact with particles in space, affecting how and where they move. At times, these interactions can create a barrier around Earth against natural high energy particle radiation in space. These results, part of a comprehensive paper on human-induced space weather, were recently published in Space Science Reviews.

“Our recent work with the LASP Van Allen Probes instruments has shown compelling evidence that the radiation belts are quite subject to human-made waves emanating from ground-based radio transmitters. Thus, humans have not only been affecting the oceans and atmosphere of Earth, but have also been affecting near-Earth space,” said Dan Baker, LASP director and co-author of the paper.

GOLD installed on commercial communications satellite

May 17, 2017

A LASP-built instrument that will provide unprecedented imaging of the Earth’s upper atmosphere has been successfully installed on the commercial satellite that will carry it into geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles above the Earth.

The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, led by the University of Central Florida (UCF) and built and operated by LASP, features a collaboration with satellite owner-operator SES Government Solutions (SES GS) to place an ultraviolet instrument as a hosted payload on a commercial satellite.

Cassini starts its grand finale

Apr 26, 2017

Toting an ultraviolet instrument designed and built by LASP, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made the first of 22 dives between the rings of Saturn and the gaseous planet today, the beginning of the end for one of NASA’s most successful missions ever.

Launched in 1997 and pulling up at Saturn in 2004 for the first of hundreds of orbits through the Jovian system, the Cassini-Huygens mission has fostered scores of dazzling discoveries. These include in-depth studies that date and even weigh the astonishing rings; the discovery of methane lakes on the icy moon Titan; hot water plumes found squirting from the moon Enceladus; and closeup views of the bright auroras at the planet’s poles.

Unique changes to comet 67P observed by Rosetta spacecraft

Mar 21, 2017

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft spent nearly two years orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, most of it at distances that allowed instruments to monitor and characterize the comet’s surface at unprecedented spatial scales.

Some of the more remarkable changes documented during Rosetta’s mission have been published today in the journal Science.

GOES-16 EXIS observes solar flares

Feb 03, 2017

On January 21, 2017, the LASP-built Extreme Ultraviolet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES-16 satellite observed solar flares.

Solar flares are huge eruptions of energy on the sun and often produce clouds of plasma traveling more than a million miles an hour. When these clouds reach Earth they can cause radio communications blackouts, disruptions to electric power grids, errors in GPS navigation, and hazards to satellites and astronauts.

GOLD one step closer to launching into space

Feb 01, 2017

A NASA instrument that will study the upper atmosphere and the impact of space weather on Earth is a step closer on its journey into space.

The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, led by University of Central Florida (UCF) scientist Richard Eastes, is scheduled to launch in late 2017 from Florida. Earlier this month, the LASP-built instrument was shipped to Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse, France, for integration on the SES-14 communications satellite, on which it will be launched into space.

High-altitude water acts as atmospheric escape route for Martian hydrogen

Jan 30, 2017

LASP researchers have discovered an atmospheric escape route for hydrogen on Mars, a mechanism that may have played a significant role in the planet’s loss of liquid water.

The findings describe a process in which water molecules rise to the middle layers of the planet’s atmosphere during warmer seasons of the year and then break apart, triggering a large increase in the rate of hydrogen escape from the atmosphere to space in a span of just weeks.

LASP will lead operations for NASA black holes mission

Jan 11, 2017

University of Colorado Boulder students and LASP professionals will operate an upcoming NASA mission that will investigate the mysterious aspects of some of the most extreme and exotic astronomical objects like stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars.

Objects such as black holes can heat surrounding gases to more than a million degrees, causing high-energy emissions in the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The high-energy X-ray radiation from this gas can be polarized, which causes it to vibrate in a particular direction.

The NASA Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will fly three space telescopes with cameras capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing astronomers to answer fundamental questions about such turbulent environments.