Space Dynamics Lab Teams with NASA on New Sensor Development

September 11, 2002

LOGAN — The Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) has teamed with NASA Langley to develop an innovative sensor called FIRST (Far-Infrared Spectroscopy of the Troposphere) to measure long wave radiation emitted from Earth.

FIRST will be a prototype sensor that will take measurements ranging from 10 to 100 microns in wavelength. Once the prototype has been proven successful, the instrument may be used on future satellites.

"Most current atmospheric measurements are made from satellites," said Gail Bingham, SDL senior scientist and FIRST co-investigator. "These sensors do not take spectral measurements beyond 15 microns and the Earth loses half its energy between 15 to 100 microns."

The new sensor will be designed to provide scientists with a set of measurements that have never been made before to help them more fully understand the Earth's climate changes.

"We would like to increase our understanding of the radiation the planet emits to help us learn how the Earth will respond to global warming," said Marty Mlynczak, principal investigator for FIRST and senior research scientist at NASA Langley.

A majority of the radiation the Earth gives off in this spectral region comes from water vapor and clouds. Measuring those changes could give scientists the information they need to better understand climate variations.

"The changes in water vapor and cloudiness may change the way Earth's atmosphere is working," said Bingham "We are not presently able to detect those changes because we do not have the capability to make spectral measurements of radiation in that region."

The instrument will be tested in 2005 on a stratospheric balloon. The balloon is 10 times the size of a normal hot air balloon and will lift the FIRST instrument over 100 thousand feet into the atmosphere, where it will take measurements.

According to Mlynczak, measurements made in the 10 to 100 micron region will help monitor climate induced changes and possibly avoid negative effects on the Earth's environment.

"The data collected could be used to validate climate models and may help in the future prediction of the climate," said Mlynczak.

The project is part of the NASA Instrument Incubator Program managed by the NASA Earth Science Technology office. This low-cost program develops prototypes to remove technical risk for new instruments designed for use on satellites.