USU instruments launched into space

Engineers have waited four years to study ozone layer

By Emilie Holmes
The Standard-Examiner
July 16, 2004

LOGAN -- Instruments built at the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan were launched into space Thursday morning to study the ozone layer.

Utah State University's top engineers have been waiting four years for the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer to launch. They built two parts of equipment integrated in TES. SDL completed and sent the hardware in 2000 but waited as other pieces were assembled and tests were done.

The TES interferometer, a sensor, will break light up into colors to measure chemicals that affect the ozone, said Robert Anderson, SDL's program manager for TES.

"It's looking at the chemicals involved in the creation and destruction of the ozone," he said.

It will see if the international Freon ban in 1996 has worked to heal the ozone.

The data gathered on the five-year orbit will enable scientists to better understand the condition of the Earth's upper and lower atmosphere and will help study global warming, Anderson said.

His team started working on the twin instruments in 1997. Each measures a different set of light colors.

Two TES housing units, called TES-FPOMA (Focal Plane Opto-Mechanical Assembly), were launched aboard NASA's Aura satellite at 4 a.m. from Vandenberg, Calif., Thursday.

Together, they are worth $3.1 million.

Anderson said because the requirements to build FPOMA were difficult, SDL was the only company to bid on the project. The end product was about the size of a toaster, he said.

Blake Crowther, a senior optical scientist at SDL, said building the hardware was challenging, in part because it had to be built for three temperature zones.

"It's built to withstand temperatures that other mechanisms on TES cannot," he said.

During the final stages of the project, Anderson said the 10-member team often worked 80-hour weeks to finish.

"It was quite difficult," he said. "But it was fun."

Aura is the third in a series of major Earth-observing satellites to study the environment and climate change.

Copyright ©2004, Ogden Publishing Corporation