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OPS: Very Good Years For The NRL
by the editors of the NRL’s SPECTRA publication

Each year, the Naval Research Laboratory leads or participates in numerous space projects in various stages of development. Normally, these culminate in a launch every few years, or perhaps a launch or two in a single year. This year, for example, the TacSat-4 satellite is ready for launch and two NRL experiments were transported to the International Space Station on Space Shuttle Endeavour.

NRLFig1 However, two years ago, 2009 saw the successful launch and deployment of 10 space projects spearheaded by NRL researchers. Dr. Jill Dahlburg, superintendent of NRL’s Space Science Division, noted, “2009 was a banner year for NRL space science and technology. The creativity, dedication, and perseverance of our space researchers throughout the Laboratory made this remarkable multitude of achievements possible.”

Between March and November 2009, eight militarily relevant experiments of high technical value were integrated, launched, deployed, and operated by the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program (STP); one cutting-edge instrument suite (HERSCHEL) was launched by NASA; and one transitioning operational capability (SSULI) was launched by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).

Six of these missions are detailed in this feature. These six space activities scientifically encompass a wide range of investigations and applications typical of the breadth of NRL’s space program: hyperspectral spaceborne remote sensing of the Earth’s coastal regions, in situ monitoring of materials and components exposed to the extreme space environment, measurements of the Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere for validating and improving space weather models, and imaging of the Sun’s corona for increased predictive understanding of the solar wind and space weather.

NRLFig2 Operational Sensor SSULI
NRL’s Special Sensor Ultraviolet Limb Imager
(SSULI) was launched October 18, 2009, on the DMSP F18 satellite. SSULI cleanly measures vertical profiles of natural airglow radiation from atoms, molecules, and ions in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere by passively scanning the Earth’s limb in the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) to far ultraviolet (FUV) wavelength ranges, to provide space environmental data in support of military and civilian systems. SSULI is the first operational atmospheric sensor to exploit the EUV spectrum. DMSP F18 SSULI data products, once calibrated and validated, will be used operationally at the Air Force Weather Agency to support the warfighter. The DMSP is a DoD environmental monitoring spacecraft program led by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

Launched aboard the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle
The HICO/RAIDS Experiment Payload (HREP) launched September 10, 2009, from Tanegashima Launch Center aboard the inaugural flight of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle. HREP is the first U.S. payload on the Japanese Experiment Module–Exposed Facility (JEM-EF), a component of the International Space Station (ISS). HREP provides all structural support and attitude knowledge to the HICO and RAIDS hyperspectral sensors, and serves as the control interface to the JEM-EF for HICO and RAIDS communication, data handling, monitoring, and power.

From its vantage point on the ISS, NRL’s Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) is collecting high-fidelity hyperspectral images of land and coastal scenes and is using this information to derive important environmental data products such as bathymetry and water clarity. Under the Office of Naval Research Innovative Naval Prototype program, HICO is successfully demonstrating the viability of operating a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based system in space for littoral environmental imaging relevant to Navy and Marine Corps operations.

Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System(RAIDS) is a hyperspectral sensor suite studying the upper atmosphere with eight optical limb-scanning sensors that range from EUV to near-infrared wavelengths. RAIDS collects the temperature and composition of the lower thermosphere and retrieves ionospheric electron densities. The new high-resolution results are being compared with predictions from global assimilative models for improved forecasting of satellite drag, specification of the ionosphere, and investigation of the surprisingly strong relationship between atmospheric dynamic processes and global-scale ionospheric morphology. RAIDS was built and is operating in a collaboration between NRL and The Aerospace Corporation. HICO/ RAIDS was integrated and flown under the auspices of the DoD STP.

Launched by Space Shuttle Atlantis To The ISS
The 7th Materials on the International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-7) was transported to the ISS by Space Shuttle Atlantis, launched November 16, 2009. The numerous individual experiments on MISSE-7 include in situ monitoring of materials sensitivities to the harsh space environment. These experiments provide a better understanding of the durability of advanced materials and electronics exposed to vacuum, solar radiation, atomic oxygen, and extremes of heat and cold. MISSE-7 returned to Earth on NASA’s STS-134 mission (the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, launched May 2011) and was replaced by MISSE-8, which will remain in orbit until at least 2013. After MISSE-7 components are evaluated, the technology readiness of successful experimental components will increase to the operational prototype level. MISSE-7 and MISSE-8 were integrated and flown under the auspices of the DoD STP.

NRLFig3 ANDE-2 Microsatellites
Launched by Space Shuttle Endeavour
The NRL ANDE-2 twin experimental microsatellites deployed on July 30, 2009, from Space Shuttle Endeavour under the auspices of the DoD STP. The two spherical microsatellites have the same size and drag coefficient but different masses, and are slowly separating into lead-trail orbits. ANDE-2 is providing a direct opportunity to study small-scale spatial and temporal variations in drag associated with geomagnetic activity. The ANDE research products are being used to improve methods for the precision orbit determination of space objects and to calibrate the Space Fence, a radar system of the U.S. Air Force 20th Space Control Squadron that tracks low-Earth-orbiting space objects. The ANDE project is also advancing miniaturization of sensor technologies that are pivotal for multi-point, in situ space weather sensing.

Launched By DoD STP Sounding Rocket
The Charged Aerosol Release Experiment I (CARE-I) was launched by the DoD STP from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility at dusk on September 19, 2009, to investigate properties of charged dust in the ionosphere. The bright optical CARE-I upper atmospheric display, easily seen from the ground along the East Coast of the United States, was produced by sunlight scattered by concentrated rocket exhaust that was released at 290km altitude by a delayed firing of the sounding rocket fourth stage. The exhaust material, composed of one-third aluminum oxide particles and two-thirds combustion product molecules, interacted with the ionosphere to create a dusty plasma with high-speed pick-up ions.

NRLFig4 Ground-based radars tracked the effects of CARE-I on the ionosphere for more than four hours, producing valuable data about how rocket motors affect ionospheric densities. CARE-I also provided a simulation of natural disturbances in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Launched By NASA Sounding Rocket
The NASA-sponsored Helium Resonance Scattering in the Corona and Heliosphere (HERSCHEL) suborbital sounding rocket launched successfully on September 14, 2009, from the White Sands Missile Range. This joint mission with the NASA Living With a Star program, NRL, and multiple institutions in Italy, France, and the United Kingdom, provided the first global images for the two most abundant elements of the solar corona, hydrogen and helium. HERSCHEL achieved three first-time measurements: simultaneous global imaging of the extended corona in EUV, ultraviolet, and visible light; global measurement of the ratio of helium to hydrogen in the corona; and global maps of solar wind outflow. Determination of the processes that generate and drive the solar wind will provide a fundamental advance in our understanding and forecasting of space weather effects at Earth.

Editors Note
This article is courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory and the SPECTRA publication and editors.