Keying off a concept proposed by Vice President Al Gore, NASA is developing plans for a small satellite which could provide continuous views of the Earth by the year 2000.
NASA plans to issue educational, scientific and possibly commercial announcements of opportunity within the next few weeks, following the Vice President's call last week (March 13) for NASA to design, build and launch the satellite by 2000.
"Vice President Gore has given us an exciting challenge," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "In the coming weeks, we plan to solicit ideas from the academic, environmental, scientific and commercial communities. We will synthesize these ideas and communicate with the Congress as we go forward."
Goldin said NASA envisions "down-to-Earth" applications: "This view of our planet can help us plan as fires ravage wilderness areas, it may be able to save lives as we watch hurricanes and typhoons form and threaten coastlines across the grand sweep of ocean basins. Moreover, we think it is important to inspire young minds, provide new perspectives on the planet for our scientific community, and perhaps provide commercial applications as well. We're going to pave the way for an Earth Channel."
The satellite concept would place a high definition television camera--paired with an eight-inch telescope--into an orbit at a unique vantage point a million miles from Earth where it could provide 24-hour views of the home planet. It would orbit at a point in space where the gravitational attraction of the Sun and the Earth essentially cancel one another out, allowing the satellite to constantly view a fully sunlit hemisphere.
"We want to directly involve university students, teamed with industry and government, in the design, development, operations and data analysis from this unique venture," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, NASA Associate Administrator for Earth Science. "It would allow scientists to track natural events such as hurricanes, large fires and volcano plumes. We expect further innovative applications to blossom as we let this singular view inspire the imaginations of all the citizens of planet Earth."
Early plans envision a 330-pound satellite linked to Earth through three simple, low cost ground stations equally spaced around the globe to provide continuous downlink capability. One new image would be downlinked every few minutes. The satellite would be developed and launched within two years of a competitive selection process. College students would participate in the design and development of the spacecraft, and student teams would operate the ground stations. The total mission cost, including launch and operations, would not exceed $50 million.
Materials provided by National Aeronautics And Space Administration. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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