NASA selects survey teams to join Geospace Dynamics mission

Screenshot of conceptual animation of the dynamic geospatial constellation (GDC) orbiting Earth through the upper atmosphere. Credit: NASA/ULA/Pond5/Artbeats Goddard Space Flight Center. See the animation on this direct link…

Nasa selected three teams of investigators to join the agency Geospatial Dynamics Constellation (GDC) mission science team in the study of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, as well as five additional surveys that will be under consideration for inclusion in the mission.

GDC is a coordinated group of satellites that will provide the first direct global measurements of the dynamic and complex region of space enveloping the Earth – known as the ionosphere and thermosphere (IT). The constellation’s ability to simultaneously study processes operating across a range of temporal and spatial scales will provide an unprecedented level of understanding of this region.

GDC will fundamentally advance scientists’ understanding of this interface with Earth’s space environment, just as the first weather satellites did for the world’s weather systems. The three GDC surveys selected for the flight have a combined budget of $149 million to design and deliver their instruments to the mission.

GDC will greatly increase our understanding and ability to mitigate the effects of space weather,” mentioned Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “What GDC teaches us about computing is both essential for low Earth orbit missions and a key ingredient for understanding orbital debris in this area..”

Scheduled for launch no earlier than September 2027, GDC will orbit in the same altitude range as the International Space Station, approximately 215 to 250 miles above Earth. It is in this region that Earth’s computing system responds strongly to inputs of energy from the Sun and the space environment above, and the lower atmosphere below – and where it internally redistributes that energy throughout near-Earth space.

The processes and dynamics active in this region can lead to many of the space weather effects we know of on Earth, such as disrupted communications and navigation signals, satellite orbit disruptions, and some triggered power outages. GDC will provide the scientific basis needed to understand space weather processes, enabling better preparedness and mitigation of its effects.

The newly selected researchers will join the selected interdisciplinary GDC scientists in November 2021: Rebecca Bishop to The aerospace company in El Segundo, California, Yue Deng to University of Texas in Arlington, and Jeffrey Thayer to University of Colorado in Boulder.

The three surveys selected are:

The Complete Auroral Precipitation Experiment (CAPE)
CAPE will measure high-energy charged particles entering the upper atmosphere from Earth’s space environment. These particles deposit energy in the upper atmosphere, fueling processes that cause large-scale redistributions of mass and energy. CAPE’s instrument uses electrostatic analyzers capable of accurately measuring these charged particles. CAPE is led by Daniel Gershman at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Atmospheric electrodynamics probe for THERMAL plasma (AETHER)
AETHER will describe the complex nature and structure of the ionosphere with a focus on understanding the phenomena that contribute to space weather. AETHER’s instrument is a Langmuir probe, which measures the temperature and electron density, as well as other characteristics, of near-Earth plasma. AETHER is led by Laila Anderson at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Modular Spectrometer for the Characterization of the Atmosphere and Ionosphere (MoSAIC)
MoSAIC will measure thermospheric winds and thermosphere-ionosphere composition by observing charged and uncharged particles in near-Earth space. MoSAIC’s instrument is a quadrupole mass spectrometer, which filters these particles by mass for detailed analysis. MoSAIC is led by Mehdi Benna at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Baltimore.

The five investigations selected by NASA for further review will each receive $250,000 to conduct a study lasting approximately four months. At the end of this period, NASA will select up to two surveys to join the GDC mission.

The following three investigations are being considered for the delivery of magnetometers to the GDC spacecraft:

  • Magnetic field study for currents and energy fluxes in the magnetosphere-ionosphere-thermosphere (MAG) coupling, led by Guan Le to Godard from NASA
  • Near Earth Magnetometer Instrument in a Small Integrated System (NEMISIS), led by Marc Moldwin to University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
  • MAGnetometers to Advance GDC (MAG), led by David Miles to University of Iowa in Iowa City
  • The following two investigations are being considered for the delivery of thermal plasma instruments to the GDC spacecraft:
  • Thermal Plasma Sensor for Dynamic Geospatial Constellation (TPS), led by Philip Anderson at the University of Texas at Dallas
  • Three-dimensional ion velocity and composition (3DI) imager, led by Keiichi Ogasawara at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio

As part of GDC’s ongoing formulation activities, NASA will issue a draft Request for Proposals for the mission spacecraft. For more information, view contract opportunity notice.

The GDC mission is managed by the Heliophysics Divisionit is Living with a Star program to Godard from NASA.

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