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Building a Wind Watcher in Space

Sep 08, 2014 02:52 PM EDT
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In less than two weeks, NASA will be launching the ISS-RapidScat wind-watching scatterometer into Earth's orbit, where it will be taxied up to the International Space Station (ISS). Interestingly, the impressively complex monitoring satellite will be going up to the ISS in parts, and the station itself will be tasked to see to its final assembly and start-up.

The RapidScat was introduced to the world just last week, when NASA released a moving and cinematic video that ends with the "Earth Right Now" project tagline, "Your planet is changing. We're on it."  (Scroll to read on...)
 [Credit: NASA/JPL]

And while the entertaining minute-and-a-half video is worth the watch, it certainly doesn't tell you much about the satellite.

The RapidScat was crafted for the sole purpose of replacing and improving on the position of the ISS-QuickScat, which monitored ocean winds to provide essential measurements used in weather predictions until it ceased functioning in 2009. The new RapidScat will help international parties monitor things like hurricanes and even churning trade-winds, which are changing in the wake of global climate change.

However, before the RapidScat can get to work, some assembly is required.

"We are not only robotically assembled, we are robotically installed," Howard Eisen, the ISS-RapidScat project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a recent release.

According to Eisen, the RapidScat will be coming to the ISS in several parts, which will be helped out of a SpaceX Dragon cargo hold by the ISS's robotic arm, and installed on an external site on the Columbus module - almost like a hood ornament for the massive station.

Each piece of the ISS-RapidScat payload will be attached to the space station by something called a Flight Releasable Attachment Mechanism (FRAM), which engineer Stacey Boland compares to Legos.

"The space station is almost like a Lego system, and a FRAM is a particular type of Lego block. We had to build on two separate Lego blocks because each block can only hold a certain amount of cargo."

This month's launch is just one of two two-piece payloads. The other half of the Rapid Scat is still a year-and-a-half away from launch.

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