CU-Boulder signs $92 million contract for space weather instrument package
The University of Colorado at Boulder signed a contract today worth an estimated $92 million with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA to build a satellite instrument package to help forecast solar disturbances that affect communication and navigation operations in the United States.
The instrument package, which will be designed and built at CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, is slated to launch on future generations of NOAA satellites known as the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, or GOES-R. Known as the Extreme Ultra Violet and X-Ray Irradiance Sensors, or EXIS, the LASP package will consist of an X-ray sensor to look at solar flares and an extreme UV sensor to monitor sunlight variation, both of which can disrupt communications and navigational accuracy of equipment and vehicles operating on land, sea and in the air and space.
A team of about 30 LASP researchers and engineers and about a half-dozen students led by principal investigator and LASP Research Associate Frank Eparvier will design and build the instruments at the LASP Space Technology Building in the CU Research Park. The LASP contract calls for the delivery of the first instrument package in 2012 and options for three additional instrument packages to be delivered over the subsequent decade following the launch of GOES-R in December of 2014, said Eparvier.
"This is great news for LASP, the university and the state of Colorado," said Eparvier. "We believe we are the premier institution in the world for making these kind of solar measurements, and we are excited to get going on this project."
The GOES satellite is responsible for measurements leading to fast, accurate weather forecasts, search-and-rescue beacon detection, and the measurement of space weather phenomena that directly affect public health and safety in the United States, Eparvier said. GOES is a NOAA program that is implemented through NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Extreme UV radiation from the sun is a primary energy source for the upper atmosphere, changing the environment in which low-Earth orbit satellites fly and affecting telecommunication and navigational systems, said Eparvier. "The new design for EXIS, based on decades of LASP experience, will provide improved measurements of extreme UV light for our nation's space operational needs."
The EXIS instrument package will be about the size of a large shoebox and will weigh about 50 pounds, said Eparvier.
CU-Boulder has a long history of operating instruments and satellites to measure solar radiation, said LASP Director Daniel Baker. A $100 million NASA satellite known as SORCE, designed and built by LASP and launched in 2003, continues to gather data and is controlled from the CU Research Park, said Baker.
"NASA and NOAA considered our long experience and expertise and approved our proposal to participate in this important national program," said Baker. "While this is our first foray in a long-term program with NOAA as the customer, we have an outstanding research group and I'm more than confident we will get the job done."
Baker said there undoubtedly will be involvement in the project in the coming years by CU-Boulder students. "LASP has proven to be a great training ground for future generations of scientists and engineers. Students are involved in virtually every aspect of what we do, from designing and building instruments and analyzing data to controlling satellites from campus."
Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School Stein Sture said the award points out CU-Boulder's outstanding research innovation to solve pressing scientific challenges. "The issue of space weather has become very important to our society as technology advances," he said. "This award shows once again that LASP is at the nation's forefront in space sciences, and is a great reflection on the talent of our faculty."
Contact: Frank Eparvier, (303) 492-4546
Cell phone, (720) 394-6823
Daniel Baker, (303) 492-4509
Jim Scott (303) 492-3114