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New space-based meteorological equipment begins collecting data

Created using new COWVR observations, this map provides information about wind strength at sea surface, the amount of water in clouds, and the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Shows radiation. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The innovative small equipment of the International Space Station created the first map of world humidity and sea breeze.


After being installed on the International Space Station, two small devices designed and manufactured at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California were turned on on January 7 and began collecting Earth data. .. Sea breeze When Water vapor in the atmosphere— Important information needed for weather and ocean forecasts. Within two days, a compact ocean breeze vector radiometer (COWVR) and a storm and tropical system temporal experiment (TEMPEST) instrument have collected sufficient data to begin mapping.

COWVR and TEMPEST were launched on December 21, 2021 and fulfilled SpaceX’s 24th commercial supply mission to NASA. Both devices are microwave radiometers that measure the fluctuations of natural microwave radiation from the Earth. To demonstrate that these devices, part of the U.S. Space Force Space Test Program-Houston 8 (STP-H8), can collect data of the same quality as large devices currently in orbit. It was designed.

This new map from COWVR shows microwave radiation from Earth at 34 GHz at all latitudes visible from the space station (52 ° N to 52 ° S). This particular microwave frequency provides weather forecasters with information about wind strength at sea surface, the amount of water in clouds, and the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

Green and white on the map indicate a lot of water vapor and clouds, and dark blue above the sea indicates drier air and clearer skies. This image captures typical weather patterns such as tropical humidity and rain (green band in the center of the map) and mid-latitude storms moving across the ocean.

“We’re off to a great start,” said Shannon Brown, a JPL engineer who designed COWVR equipment. “Looking at this quality data very early in the mission is ready for something very exciting to come.”

COWVR is a complete rethink of classic equipment design, and TEMPEST is the product of long advances towards miniaturization of equipment components. If they continue to succeed, they will open the door to a new era in which low-cost satellites complement the existing meteorological satellite fleet.

How the instrument works

Radiometers need not only thin lines, but also rotating antennas that can observe a large area of ​​the Earth’s surface. In all other space-borne microwave radiometers, not only the antenna, but also the electronic device associated with the radiometer itself rotates about 30 times per minute. Designs with a large number of rotating parts have scientific and engineering reasons, but it is difficult to stabilize a spacecraft with a large amount of moving mass. Also, the mechanism for passing power and data between the rotating and stationary sides of a device has proven to be time consuming and difficult to build.

The COWVR weighs about 130 pounds (57.8 kilograms), less than one-fifth the mass of the microwave radiometer used by the US military to measure sea breeze. Less than one-third of its mass rotates. To avoid the need for a separate mechanism to transfer power and data from rotation to stable parts, Brown mounted everything that needed to rotate on the turntable.

He and his team have enabled other design innovations by increasing the complexity of the required data processing, that is, by finding software solutions to hardware challenges. For example, the team replaced some of the equipment called “warm targets” used to calibrate radiometer polarization measurements with noise sources that produced known polarized signals. Once calibrated, these known signals can be removed like any other noise in the data transmission.

COWVR’s companion device, TEMPEST, is the product of NASA’s decades of investment in technology to make space-bound electronics more compact. In the mid-2010s, JPL engineer Sharmila Padmanabhan set out what scientific goal was to package a compact sensor in the CubeSat, a type of microsatellite often used to inexpensively test new design concepts. I wondered if I could achieve. “Hey, if you can actually package the sensor in a compact CubeSat, you’ll get measurements of clouds, convection, and precipitation over time,” Padmanavan recalls. These measurements provide more insight into how the storm grows.

Padmanabhan’s design was first tested in space from 2018 to June last year. Known as TEMPEST-D (“D” in “Demonstration”), the CubeSat measured water vapor in the atmosphere and captured images of many major hurricanes and storms. The newly deployed Tempest is about the size of a large cereal box, weighs less than 3 pounds (1.3 kilograms), and has an antenna diameter of about 6 inches (15 centimeters).

The size of the antenna shows that TEMPEST can best observe only the shortest microwave wavelengths that are sensitive to water vapor. This is about one-tenth the wavelength that COWVR senses. Just as a short flute column is suitable for short wavelength sounds (treble), a small antenna “matches” short wavelengths well, while a long tuba column is suitable for long bass wavelengths. ..

The combined COWVR and TEMPEST data provide almost the same measurements as those obtained from large microwave radiometers used for meteorological observations. The equipment was funded by the US Space Force and the Navy, but users from other institutions, universities, and military branches are also interested. These scientists are already on the concept of a mission to use new low-cost microwave sensor technology to study long-standing questions such as how heat from the ocean fuels global weather patterns. It is working.


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Quote: The new space-based meteorological equipment is data obtained from https://phys.org/news/2022-02-space-based-weather-instruments.html on February 9, 2022 (February 9, 2022). Sun) will start collecting

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New space-based meteorological equipment begins collecting data

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