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ISS Utilisation: AWE (Atmospheric Waves Experiment)

Feb 17, 2023

The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) will be the first dedicated National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mission designed specifically to characterise the properties of global mesospheric gravity waves. The mission is due to be launched in July 2023 and will be hosted onboard the International Space Station (ISS). AWE will help scientists understand and forecast space weather which can have profound impacts on society due to its impacts on technology.

Quick facts

Overview

Launch dateJul 2023

Artist’s impression of AWE mapping the properties of global mesospheric gravity waves. (Image credit: NASA Explorers Program)


 

Summary

Mission Capabilities

AWE carries the Advanced Mesospheric Temperature Mapper (AMTM) to perform its science objectives. The AWE AMTM is based on the successful Utah State University AMTM which is currently deployed on Earth’s surface.  It will characterise the properties of global mesospheric gravity waves (GWs), thereby studying the connection between terrestrial and space weather.

Performance Specifications

AMTM will measure gravity waves using the OH airglow atmospheric layer, situated approximately 87 km above Earth’s surface. It will have a 1 second exposure time to enable investigation of 30-300 km gravity waves, and a Field-of-View of 90° which equates to a swath width of 600 km. Onboard the ISS, AWE will be able to record 15 swaths per day and will take four days to cover the region between +/- 55° latitude. The instrument has three narrow band (2.5-3 nm) filters centred at 1524 nm and 1542 nm and a nearby background region.  

Space and Hardware Components

AWE will be hosted onboard the ISS and is roughly 1 m in length. The instrument, which is thermoelectrically cooled down to -50°C to limit the electronic noise, is being developed and built by the Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory (USU/SDL). 

Overview

Figure 1: An artist’s impression of AWE mapping the properties of global mesospheric gravity waves. (Image credit: NASA Explorers Program)

The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) is the first dedicated NASA mission designed specifically to characterise the properties of global mesospheric gravity waves (GWs). The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) will help scientists understand and, ultimately, forecast the vast space weather system and our planet. Space weather is important because it can have profound impacts by affecting technology and astronauts in space, disrupting radio communication and, at its most severe, overwhelming power grids. 1)

The three science objectives of the mission are:

  • Quantify the seasonal and regional variabilities and influences of GWs near the mesopause.
  • Identify the dominant and dynamical processes controlling GWs
  • Estimate the wider role of GWs in the Ionosphere-Thermosphere-Mesosphere.

The Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) of Utah State University (USU)  is providing the instrument hardware, mission management and mission operations centre for the mission. The science operations centre will also be developed and operated by USU.

Spacecraft

The AWE will be onboard the International Space Station (ISS), whose orbit will enable 15 swaths per day, covering the region between and +/- 55° latitude. AWE will be small in size with a length of 1 m.

Figure 2: The planned location of AWE onboard the ISS. (Image Credit: CEDAR Space)

Launch

The AWE is due to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in July 2023. The mission has a planned lifetime of 2 years.

Mission Status

  • February 2019: NASA selected a new mission that will help scientists understand and, ultimately, forecast the vast space weather system around our planet.
  • December 20, 2020: At the 2020 annual Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions (CEDAR) workshop, the AWE team presented a description of the progress in the development of the AWE science instrumentation, measurements, data analyses, and complementary modelling capabilities. AWE is a NASA Mission of Opportunity designed to investigate the near-global properties and effects of gravity waves as they propagate into the Earth's upper atmosphere. In particular, AWE will measure the spectrum of small-scale (~30-300 km) gravity waves (GWs) generated by strong weather disturbances, e.g. convection and sustained flow over mountains, that impact the ionosphere, thermosphere and mesosphere (ITM). 3) 4)
  • January 6, 2021: Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory (USU/SDL) announced that it has successfully completed the Key Decision Point (KDP) C for NASA’s Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE). KDP-C provides NASA approval for the project to begin final design and fabrication, known as Phase C, and establishes baselines for its official schedule and budget. 2)

Sensor Complement

Advanced Mesospheric Temperature Mapper

AWE will deploy a wide-field-of-view infrared imager, known as the Advanced Mesospheric Temperature Mapper (AMTM), on the International Space Station (ISS) that will characterise the properties of global mesospheric gravity waves (GWs)  thereby illuminating the connection between terrestrial and space weather. The AWE AMTM is based on the successful Utah State University AMTM which is currently deployed at both the South Pole station and at the ALOMAR observatory in Northern Norway. AWE will be the first use of the AMTM in space.

Figure 3: A model of AWE onboard the ISS (Image credit: CEDAR Space)

AMTM will measure gravity waves using the OH airglow layer, at approximately 87 km altitude, which is not visible to the naked eye of the photographic layer. This OH layer is an excellent tracer for gravity waves as they propagate into the upper mesospheric region. It will have a one second exposure time to enable investigation of 30-300 km gravity waves, and a Field-of-View of 90° which equates to a swath width of 600 km. Onboard the ISS, AWE will be able to record 15 swaths per day and will cover the region between +/- 55° latitude every four days.

The instrument was designed and built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) with three narrow band (2.5-3 nm) filters centred at 1524 and 1542 nm.  The detector is a 320 x 256 pixels infrared sensor, thermoelectrically cooled down to -50 °C to limit the electronic noise. The telecentric lens system (Fig.2) was designed for wide field-of-view narrowband imaging (<2 nm) and has a very high throughput.

Figure 4: (Left) AMTM as operated at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station. (Right) Solid Sketch design of the AMTM optical system and ray paths for different angles.

References  

1) Dwayne Brown, ”NASA Selects Mission to Study Space Weather from Space Station,” NASA Press Release 19-013, 25 February 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-selects-mission-to-study-space-weather-from-space-station

2) ”Space Dynamics Lab Achieves Critical Milestone for NASA Space Weather Mission,” USU/SDL, 6 January 2021, URL: https://www.usu.edu/today/story/space-dynamics-lab-achieves-critical-milestone-for-nasa-space-weather-mission

3) M. J. Taylor, J. M. M. Forbes,D. C. Fritts,J. B. Snively, S. D. Eckermann, H. Liu, P. D. Pautet, Y. Zhao, E. A. Syrstad, R. W. Esplin, ”Developing the NASA Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE),” American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2020, Abstract, December 2020, URL: https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2020AGUFMSA011..07T/abstract

4) Joel Cardon, Harri Latvakoski, Greg Cantwell, ”Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) Calibration CALCON 2020,” 22 October 2020, URL:  https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1395&context=calcon

5) P.-D. Pautet, M. J. Taylor, W. R. Pendleton, Y. Zhao, T. Yuan, R. Esplin, and D. McLain, "Advanced mesospheric temperature mapper for high-latitude airglow studies," Appl. Opt. 53, 5934-5943 (2014), URL: https://opg.optica.org/ao/fulltext.cfm?uri=ao-53-26-5934&id=300736

6) CEDAR Science. “2020 CEDAR Workshop: The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE): A new NASA Mission of Opportunity”, Youtube, 27 Nov. 2021, URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WM6k3RTfmw

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (eoportal@symbios.space).

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