SDL lends expertise to new satellite

Scientists look to revolutionize weather forecasts

By Tyler Riggs
The Herald Journal
June 25, 2004

A new satellite that could revolutionize weather forecasts might have a piece of Utah State University on it.

The Space Dynamics Lab at USU has teamed up with BAE Systems on the project. BAE received a $20 million grant from NASA to develop the satellite and has earmarked $1.3 million of that to SDL to develop the Hyperspectral Environmental Suite, or HES, for the satellite.

"It really is revolutionary," said Ron Huppi, manager of SDL's Stewart Radiance Lab in Bedford, Mass. "There's just drastically more information that can be obtained."

The satellite will provide more data about temperature and winds in the high atmosphere than ever before, Huppi said.

The research for the project will take place at SDL's Massachusetts facility, Huppi said.

With the information provided by the satellite, forecasters will be able to monitor the movement of hurricanes and know exactly when and where certain areas need to be evacuated.

Information from the satellite could also help direct aircraft pilots away from dangerous storms and aid industrial facilities in determining where the wind is blowing pollution.

The idea for the technology stems from experiments with sensors attached to balloons performed by the lab in the 1970s.

"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 created from the 1970s experiments had a very low resolution, Huppi said. The images then were taken at about a 16-pixel resolution, whereas today's technology would allow resolutions more than 1,000 times that.

Huppi said data from the satellite will help in producing a four-dimensional temperature map. The instrument that SDL will develop -- called a hyperspectral interferometer -- will produce two-dimensional images at a large number of wavelengths. The data would be converted into a three-dimensional image.

When the element of time is added to the images, Huppi said, it gives four dimensions of data to be used.

The data sent to Earth from the satellite will be sent in real time, giving weather forecasters up-to-the-second information.

If SDL and BAE Systems are selected by NASA to further develop the technology, Huppi said, it could mean significant future money for the two entities.

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

Copyright © 2004 The Herald Journal. Logan, Utah