SDL Participating in NASA Study for Next Generation Weather Satellite

By Trina Paskett
Space Dynamics Laboratory
June 18, 2004

Logan – Utah State University Research Foundation's Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) is a teammate with BAE Systems on the HES (Hyperspectral Environmental Suite) study, one of three teams selected by NASA to complete a sensor formulation study to define a next generation satellite to revolutionize weather prediction.

"The effort will ultimately provide a revolutionary upgrade of our national weather monitoring and forecasting system," Ron Huppi, SDL's principle investigator and program manager for HES, manager of SDL's Stewart Radiance Laboratory in Bedford, Mass., and adjunct professor in the electrical computer engineering department at Utah State University, said.

NASA awarded three $20 million contracts. They are for the formulation phase work on HES instruments for the next generation of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Upon completion of this phase, one team will be selected to build and implement the operational weather monitoring systems.

SDL's primary portion of the study may involve adapting the design and evaluating the performance of the cryogenic imaging interferometer-spectrometer technology developed at SDL's Stewart Radiance Laboratory. According to Huppi this technology is state of the art and stems from balloon-borne sensor studies the Lab first performed in the mid 70s.

"Application of the concept was amazing then, but we had to wait for high speed electronics and high frame rate imaging detector technology to catch up with us before we could realize its revolutionary benefits," Huppi said.

The images from the initial 1970 balloon study were extremely low resolution. Now with the advance of technology, data taken with this interferometer can easily use two focal planes, hosting over 16 thousand pixels each. Future advancements in the technology could easily lead to hyperspectral sensor systems with significantly larger numbers of pixels per image.

The hyperspectral interferometer instrument will produce 2D images simultaneously at a large number of wave lengths of infrared light. The data can then be converted into 3D temperature images. This will allow winds to be monitored at various altitudes and can give advance and accurate warnings of hurricane paths and other major weather systems.

"This technology will greatly improve weather predicting and monitoring. For example, it could allow forecasters to accurately monitor the movement of hurricanes and know precisely when and where to evacuate," Huppi said.

The information could be used by commercial airlines to determine when and where hazardous atmospheric conditions exist in flight routes. It could also be used to optimize flight paths by using the measured wind patterns to minimize fuel consumption.

"There go my early retirement plans," Huppi said. "It has been my career dream to see this technology put into use in an operational satellite that will have direct impact and benefit to mankind."

The study will last for two years with results being presented to NASA, at which time one company will be selected to build and implement the HES instrument suite. The other prime contractor awardees are Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, and ITT Industries.

"We are looking forward to developing a long term relationship with BAE Systems. They have a lot of expertise in developing overall space systems that could utilize our innovative sensor technology," Huppi said.