The TERRIERS satellite, built by students at Boston University and scheduled for launch on May 18, could provide a much better understanding of how changes in the ionosphere -- the electrically charged region of the upper atmosphere -- affect global communication systems, satellites, cell phones and pagers.
The Tomographic Experiment using Radiative Recombinative Ionospheric Extreme ultraviolet and Radio Sources, TERRIERS, named for the University's mascot, the Boston Terrier, will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, at 1:10 a.m. EDT on May 18.
TERRIERS will use a unique combination of space- and ground-based instruments to measure ultraviolet, radio and visible light, which are produced naturally through various chemical reactions.
TERRIERS will use this light to create high-resolution, 3-D images of the ionosphere, similar to the way a CATscan takes multiple X-rays of the human body to assemble a three-dimensional image.
Just as high-speed electrons slamming into a TV screen cause it to glow and generate a picture, when high-speed charged particles smack into the Earth's ionosphere, they cause ultraviolet light to be emitted in the form of auroras. TERRIERS will measure these emissions to better understand the upper atmosphere.
"There is an increasing need to understand the ionosphere because changing conditions in this region adversely affect transmissions from communications satellites and impact global positioning systems," said Boston University's Daniel Cotton, principal investigator for TERRIERS. Data obtained from TERRIERS also could help scientists better predict space weather, Cotton said.
NASA's cost for the spacecraft is an estimated $6.1 million, which combined with the cost of the launch vehicle totals an estimated $12.3 million.
A three-stage Pegasus rocket, manufactured by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA, will hold the 272-pound (123-kilogram) satellite under the belly of an L-1011 Stargazer aircraft. The aircraft will release the Pegasus rocket at an altitude of 40,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. The Pegasus will carry the TERRIERS satellite into its 340-mile (550-kilometer) orbit. The spacecraft will then circle Earth in a polar orbit once every 96 minutes.
More than 60 Boston University students and faculty members have been involved in the science, theory, design, instrument-development and testing of TERRIERS since its selection in 1995. Sixteen Boston University undergraduate students will control the satellite from a mission control center located on campus after the satellite reaches its final orbit.
In addition to scientists from Boston University's Center for Space Physics, other collaborators on the mission include teams from the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Haystack Observatory, Tyngsboro, MA; and AeroAstro, Herndon, VA.
TERRIERS is one of three NASA-funded missions under the Student Explorer Demonstration Initiative (STEDI). The Universities Space Research Association of Columbia, MD, administers the STEDI program for NASA. Information about STEDI can be found on the Internet at: http://cass.jsc.nasa.gov/stedi/overview.html
For more information about the TERRIERS project, visit the Boston University web site at: http://www.bu.edu/satellite
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