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HomeNewsNASA cubesats will reveal any changes in space weather

NASA cubesats will reveal any changes in space weather

Both cubesats will use additional scientific tools to study the conditions that form these groundbreaking features.

Two CubeSats, Plasma Improvements in the Ionospheric-Therosphere Satellite (petitSat) and the Strobe Predictive Observation Research Mission (SPORT), have arrived at the International Space Station as part of a commercial resupply mission 26th of SpaceX for NASA.

Scientists on both missions are most interested in studying a layer of Earth’s upper atmosphere known as the ionosphere. The ionosphere is where the impact of space weather on our technology is most felt. It is home to many satellites, including the International Space Station. Radio waves and GPS signals pass through the ionosphere and their variations can interfere or even disrupt our communications. Space weather can also induce electrical currents that can create electrical charges in orbiting satellites and, in extreme cases, cause power outages on the ground.

Day after day, the ionosphere is cooked by solar radiation into a mixture of positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons, known as plasma. Oscillations in the ionosphere cause the formation of high and low density regions (bubbles and drops) in the plasma. These bubbles and drops of water can scatter radio signals, sometimes causing them to collide in a phenomenon called strobe. This results in noisy radio signals, which can reduce the reliability of communications and navigation systems, or even disrupt the signal altogether.

Unfortunately, scientists do not understand exactly how bubbles and drops of plasma appear. After petitSat and SPORT are launched from the space station, the two CubeSats will use additional scientific tools to study the conditions that cause these groundbreaking features to form. “The idea is that science teams will work together and compare each other,” adds Jeff Klenzing, principal investigator for petitSat at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“If you put a pencil in a glass of water that’s half-empty, the pencil will look,” said Linda Habash Krause, SPORT project scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Like broken, what happens when you have a bubble? Similar to a pencil in water, the signal goes through many bends.

SPORT is equipped with six instruments to make measurements in the ionosphere. This will help determine the conditions that existed just before the plasma bubble formed and, ultimately, how their evolution affects ground communication signals. SPORT will transmit the data to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), where the data will be distributed to researchers from INPE, NASA and other US partners.

In an additional way, petitSat will work to determine what triggers the plasma blobs, when they appear or the size of the area they occupy. petitSat and SPORT will provide enhanced observations and information on space weather phenomena affecting communications. Together, these missions will advance our understanding of the ever-changing space environment and amplify the current capabilities of small satellites for the direct benefit of our society.

News Summary:

  • NASA cubesats will reveal any changes in space weather
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