'Revolutionary' earth observing concept selected for NASA's New Millennium Program

December 29, 1999

A NASA Langley instrument that uses new technologies to measure elements of Earth's atmosphere and to support space research aimed at reducing risks from severe weather has been selected as the next Earth-observing mission under NASA's New Millennium Program. Langley will build and flight-test this measurement concept, known as the Geostationary Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer (GIFTS), in preparation for a 2003 mission.

The mission--designated as Earth Observing 3 (EO-3)--will test advanced technologies for measuring temperature, water vapor, wind and chemical composition with high resolution in space and over time. The near continuous surveillance of atmospheric temperature, moisture, and wind structure is expected to enable revolutionary improvements in weather analysis and prediction. GIFTS technologies will provide critical weather information impossible to achieve through conventional means.

Weather information transmitted by GIFTS will be equivalent to that obtained by launching 100,000 weather balloons every minute at intervals of 2 miles. The motion of clouds and the transport pollutants in the atmosphere will also be measured.

"In 2003, this space flight demonstration will involve genuinely revolutionary measurement approaches that will have a major impact on Earth system science," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for Earth Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "The eventual incorporation of this technology on geostationary weather satellites would provide up-to-the-minute information, never before available, on active severe weather systems, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. These observations will help improve the accuracy of the current three-day weather forecasts and extend the duration of forecasts up to five days during the next decade," Asrar said.

The GIFTS measurement concept was developed by Dr. William L. Smith, Chief Atmospheric Scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, together with scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University.

The GIFTS measurement concept will take atmospheric observation and prediction forward by a quantum jump in just a few years, according to Smith. "GIFTS' greatly improved environmental forecasts [will] reduce the risk of hazardous weather and poor air quality to human safety and heath," said Smith.

The program will be managed by NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, under Project Manager Wallace Harrison. Dr. Henry Revercomb of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Gail Bingham of Utah State University are the co-investigators responsible for critical engineering and technology components of GIFTS.

The mission uses an advanced imaging spectrometer incorporating breakthrough technologies such as large-area format focal-plane detector arrays and new data-readout and signal-processing electronics. Technology providers include ASRC, Inc., Composite Optics, Inc., Honeywell, Irvine Sensors, Inc., ITT, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, Raytheon, Space Electronics, Inc., SSG, Texas A&M University, TRW, and the University of New Mexico. These technology providers, together with NASA's Langley Research Center, will supply critical elements of the GIFTS system.

GIFTS' public education and outreach program will supply TV weather forecasters with enhanced meteorology data, support museums such as the Virginia Air and Space Center with meteorology exhibits, and work with Norfolk State to enhance teacher education and partnering through national student programs such as the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program. GIFTS outreach is managed by Dr. Sanjay Limaye, University of Wisconsin, and locally by Dr. Arlene Levine, Outreach and Education Manager for Langley's Atmospheric Science Competency.

NOAA's National Weather Service and National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service will participate in the GIFTS mission by validating the improvements in weather forecasting enabled by GIFTS technologies.

The ultimate objective of the EO-3 mission is the infusion of new remote sensing technologies into the US's next generation operational weather satellite systems. NASA's Aviation Safety Program Office and American Airlines are also participating in the EO-3 mission. They will document the impact of GIFTS observations on reducing the risk to safe flight posed by aviation weather hazards. Assessments of the improvement of aviation fuel management enabled by the flight level winds provided by GIFTS, particularly over conventional, data-sparse oceanic regions, will also be assessed.

NASA selected Langley's concept from four finalists. These were culled from 24 proposals submitted in response to a NASA Research Announcement (NRA) released in September 1998. The NRA solicited innovative approaches for observing the Earth's surface and atmosphere from positions outside low-Earth orbits, with an emphasis on advanced measurement concepts and technologies. The selection process was carried out by NASA Headquarters, and included evaluations of each concept study by external peer reviewers. The total NASA cost of the mission, including contribution to launch, is expected to be approximately $105 million.
-end-
More information on NASA's New Millennium Program is available at http://nmp.jpl.nasa.gov .

NASA/Langley Research Center

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