NASA Launches JPL-Built Earth Science Experiment

Delta II lifts off carrying NPP Delta II Lifts Off Carrying NPP, JPL CubeSat Experiment At Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex-2 in California, a United Launch Alliance Delta II lifts off carrying NASA's National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft and five small CubeSat research satellites, including M-Cubed, with features JPL's COVE Earth science technology experiment. Image credit: NASA/ULA
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October 31, 2011

An experiment developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., to test technology for future NASA Earth science missions was aboard one of five small "CubeSat" research satellites that hitched a ride to orbit Oct. 28 with NASA's newest Earth-observing satellite, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP.

NPP, which successfully launched aboard a Delta II rocket from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, will provide critical data to help scientists understand the dynamics of long-term climate patterns and help meteorologists improve short-term weather forecasts. A little more than an hour and a half after launch, the Delta II deployed the five auxiliary CubeSat payloads, which are the third installment of a series of NASA Educational Launch of Nanosatellite missions, also known as ELaNa III.

JPL's experiment is aboard a University of Michigan-created CubeSat called the Michigan Multipurpose Mini-satellite/CubeSat On-board processing Validation Experiment, or M-Cubed/COVE. M-Cubed's mission is to obtain mid-resolution color imagery of Earth's surface and to carry COVE. COVE will validate an image processing algorithm designed for use in a science instrument planned for a next-generation satellite mission to survey the impacts of aerosols and clouds on global climate change. The instrument, called the Multiangle Spectro-Polarimetric Imager, or MSPI, is a multi-directional, multi-wavelength, high-accuracy polarization camera system that is a follow-on instrument to the JPL-developed Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft. A prototype MSPI camera, known as AirMSPI, flies aboard NASA's ER-2 high-altitude aircraft and also includes the specialized processor that is flying aboard COVE. M-Cubed/COVE and MSPI development are sponsored by NASA's Earth Science Technology Office in Washington.

MSPI is a candidate instrument for NASA's Aerosol-Cloud-Ecosystem (ACE) mission, an Earth satellite recommended by the National Research Council in its 2007 Earth Sciences Decadal Survey. ACE mission objectives include characterizing the role of aerosols in changing Earth's energy balance (the balance between incoming solar energy and outgoing heat from Earth), especially their impact on precipitation and cloud formation. 

The COVE technology validation experiment, which is designed to last at least six months, will feature the first in-space application of a new radiation-hardened field-programmable gate array (FPGA) processor. COVE will advance technology required for real-time, high-data-rate instrument processing relevant to future Earth science missions.

M-Cubed/COVE successfully deployed from the first of three Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployers aboard the Delta II rocket, and mission controllers at the University of Michigan have acquired a signal. The JPL/Michigan team is now tracking M-Cubed's signal and working to acquire data. Once nominal CubeSat operations are established, the team will then turn on JPL's COVE experiment and begin acquiring data from it.

For more information about M-Cubed/COVE, visit: http://umcubed.org/ . For more information about the ELaNa III mission, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/tgbuVn . For more on AirMSPI, visit: http://airbornescience.jpl.nasa.gov/airmspi/ . For more about NPP, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/npp .
JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Alan Buis 818-354-0474
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Alan.buis@jpl.nasa.gov
2011-335



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