Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Three FASTSAT Instruments Pass Tests

The outer layers of Earth's atmosphere hold many secrets yet to be uncovered and three scientific instruments will fly soon on the FASTSAT-HSV01 satellite and seek to uncover them to benefit us here on Earth. Known as MINI-ME, PISA and TTI, these instruments recently passed a series of important final tests to prove their readiness for spaceflight.

These instruments were conceived and built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and were integrated to the satellite and tested at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

MINI-ME, acronym for Miniature Imager for Neutral Ionospheric atoms and Magnetospheric Electrons, is a low energy neutral atom imager which will detect neutral atoms formed in the plasma population of the Earth's outer atmosphere to improve global space weather prediction. Low energy neutral atom imaging is a technique first pioneered at Goddard which allows scientists to observe remotely various trapped charged particle populations around Earth that we would normally only be able to observe in-situ through direct instrument contact with the particles.

Michael Collier, Principal Investigator for the MINI-ME instrument at NASA Goddard said, "The satellite has gone through vibration, thermal, and Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) tests and everything looks great. The MINI-ME instrument is performing as expected."

PISA is an acronym for the Plasma Impedance Spectrum Analyzer, which will test a new measurement technique for the thermal electron populations in the ionosphere, and their density structuring, which can interfere with or scatter radio signals used for communication and navigation. PISA will tell scientists on Earth when and where the ionosphere becomes structured or turbulent. That will give us better predictions of how space weather will affect GPS signals.

Doug Rowland, PISA's Principal Investigator at NASA Goddard said, "PISA has completed the same tests that the Mini-ME endured and has just passed powered Electromagnetic Interference Test. PISA is on track for spacecraft to be packed up and delivered to the launch site." The EMI, vibration and thermal testing are critical tests for all instruments and satellites before they're loaded aboard a rocket and put into orbit.

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