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NASA Grants UCF $55 Million For Space-Weather Research, Making It The First University To Lead A NASA Mission

Apr 15, 2013 12:06 PM EDT
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NASA awarded the University of Central Florida a $55 million grant to build and launch an instrument that will provide "unprecedented imaging" of the Earth's upper atmosphere, according to the university.

Specifically, those behind the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission hope to gain a better understanding of space weather, such as solar winds, and its impact on communication and navigation satellites. 

This will include research regarding the ability of geomagnetic storms to alter the temperature and composition of the atmosphere as well as the global response of the thermosphere to extreme ultraviolet variability. Furthermore, scientists hope to gain insight regarding atmospheric waves and tides below the thermosphere and how the structure of the equatorial ionosphere influences plasma-density irregularities.

According to the university, the information may also lead to advances in directing airline traffic. 

"It's great to see something that my team and I worked on for years selected for funding," Richard Eastes, a research scientist with UCF's Florida Space Institute, said in an article published on the school's site. "It shows that other scientists think what we're planning to do is some of the most important science in the world. And for UCF, it's a chance to demonstrate that the university can play a more significant role in space research."

The school is not the only party working on the project, however: the University of Colorado, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of California at Berkeley, Computational Physics Inc., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the commercial satellite company SES Government Solutions will be contributing to the 2017 launch as well.

"It's clear that NASA is interested in flying more instruments on commercial satellites," Eastes said. "With today's budgets, most science missions that need a geostationary orbit aren't affordable unless they fly on a commercial satellite."

Rich Pang, the senior director for hosted payloads at SES Government Solutions, believes the GOLD mission may represent a glimpse into the future of space exploration on a much broader scale.

"Building upon the success of the Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload and innovative partnerships like the one we have with GOLD, we are extremely eager to blaze a new trail providing low-cost and timely opportunities for small- to medium-sized payloads," he said. 

When completed, the instrument will be about the size of a microwave oven.

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