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Space Dynamics Lab chosen by NASA to study space weather from Int'l Space Station

March 13, 2019 | HJ News

An image taken from the International Space Station shows orange swaths of airglow hovering in Earth’s atmosphere. NASA’s new Atmospheric Waves Experiment will observe this airglow from a perch on the space station to help scientists understand and ultimately improve forecasts of space weather changes in the upper atmosphere
Photo courtesy of NASA

Utah State University physics professor Mike Taylor has studied upper atmospheric gravity waves for more than three decades. Now, he can lead a project chosen by NASA to study the atmosphere from the International Space Station. A camera that will mount to the station is expected to launch in August 2022.

“This is such an exciting and unique opportunity because so many people submitted their ideas to NASA, and we are a winner; others are not, and they will have to try again,” Taylor said. “We are extremely lucky to go through the entire selection process because at any point they could have decided to not continue analyzing our plans.”

Taylor described the process of submitting a proposal to NASA up to being chosen. He said his team is “being examined at every single stage.”

“It all started in 2016 when NASA made a mission opportunity announcement,” said Burt Lamborn, a representative for the Space Dynamics Laboratory. “Our proposal was submitted in the fall of that year.”

Taylor helped to build a team and write a proposal to NASA called the Atmospheric Waves Experiment mission. The current plan is to launch an imaging device known as the Advance Mesospheric Temperature Mapper into space to capture colorful bands of light in Earth’s atmosphere, known as “airglow.”

“Everything is about getting more knowledge to plan for the future,” Taylor said. “One day when we have space planes, we need to be able to predict the atmosphere in space like we predict turbulence for planes today.”

It took a year for NASA to review SDL’s proposal, and SDL was officially selected in 2017 to create a study report with a small amount of money from NASA. In October 2018, NASA sent a team to interview Taylor and other workers about their project. By Feb. 25, NASA was ready to announce a USU-led mission.

“This is significant because it is the first time that a program of this magnitude is being solely housed at USU,” PR Director Eric Warren said. “We have our lead (Taylor) and developer (SDL) both here in Logan.”

Taylor and his team are now working on what they call “Phase B,” where they will organize contracts and spend the next two years gathering data.

The mission will allow a camera to take pictures every second from space.

“We are honored Utah State University has been selected to lead this important NASA mission,” stated USU President Noelle Cockett in a press release March 5. “AWE continues USU’S long tradition of working with NASA to realize its mission of achieving a deep, scientific understanding of Earth, our solar system and the universe beyond.”

Additional investigators in the project include College of Science Dean Maura Hagan, professor Jeff Forbes and physicists Dominique Pautet and Yucheng Zhao.

The culmination of years of work allows space wave images to be studied.

“Ultimately, we want to know how our environment has an effect on the atmosphere in space,” Taylor said. “This mission allows us to get information we’ve never been able to obtain before. It establishes our ability to do this work.”