The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is a NASA-funded Explorer mission that will provide a vast storehouse of knowledge about the solar system, the Milky Way, and the Universe. Among the objects WISE will study are asteroids, the coolest and dimmest stars, and the most luminous galaxies.
WISE is an unmanned satellite carrying an infrared-sensitive telescope that will image the entire sky. Since objects around room temperature emit infrared radiation, the WISE telescope and detectors are kept very cold (below -430° F /15 Kelvins, which is only 15° Centigrade above absolute zero) by a cryostat -- like an ice chest but filled with solid hydrogen instead of ice.
Solar panels provide WISE with the electricity it needs to operate, and always point toward the Sun. Orbiting several hundred miles above the dividing line between night and day on Earth, the telescope looks out at right angles to the Sun and always points away from Earth. As WISE orbits from the North Pole to the equator to the South Pole and then back up to the North Pole, the telescope sweeps out a circle in the sky. As the Earth moves around the Sun, this circle will move around the sky, and after six months WISE will have observed the whole sky.
As WISE sweeps along the circle a small mirror scans in the opposite direction, capturing an image of the sky onto an infrared sensitive digital camera which will take a picture every 11 seconds. Each picture covers an area of the sky 3 times larger than the full moon. After 6 months WISE will have taken nearly 1,500,000 pictures covering the entire sky. Each picture has one megapixel at each of four different wavelengths that range from 5 to 35 times longer than the longest waves the human eye can see. Data taken by WISE is downloaded by radio transmission 4 times per day to computers on the ground which combine the many images taken by WISE into an atlas covering the entire celestial sphere and a list of all the detected objects.
Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS)
Launched in 1996, the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) satellite was expected to map and understand the magnitude of polar ozone depletion for two years. More than ten years later, it was still in orbit and providing valuable scientific data. Its life was extended thanks to the collaboration with SOI, whose students became lead controllers of the NASA spacecraft in 2002, first from Goddard Space Flight Center and then from a control center on campus.
Using students for TOMS mission support reduced NASA’s operational cost from millions of dollars a year to a few hundred thousand dollars, making the extended mission operations possible. The partnership also gave the students an important hands-on learning experience. The Capitol College team demonstrated that a small contingent of engineering students could perform a number of complex technical tasks well with limited subject-matter expert supervision.
In December 2006, TOMS had a catastrophic failure of the transmitter in its second transponder, resulting in the total loss of all data downlink capability and the termination of the mission. TOMS delivered some of the most critical and influential environmental data ever recorded, documenting the long-term decline of global atmospheric ozone and the emergence and development of the Antarctic ozone hole. It allowed the world to view and understand the ozone in a new way, helping to shape international environmental perspectives and policy.
Today, the work done by the TOMS program has been taken over by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard the Aura satellite. The Space Operations Institute TOMS Operations Team was recognized as a recipient of the prestigious William T. Pecora Award for developing innovative techniques for providing mission support and science data capture.
ERBS and UARS
The SOI took over operations for the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS) and the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) upon receiving the Basic Grant from NASA in 2002. Both satellite operations were decommissioned in 2006, the process for which was accomplished without incident.
ERBS was part of the NASA's three-satellite Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE), designed to investigate how energy from the sun is absorbed and re-emitted by the Earth. This process of absorption and re-radiation was one of the principal drivers of the Earth's weather patterns. Observations from ERBS were also used to determine the effects of human activities (such as burning fossil fuels) and natural occurrences (such as volcanic eruptions) on the Earth's radiation balance. The other instruments of the ERBE were flown on NOAA 9 and 10.
The UARS satellite was launched in 1991 by the Space Shuttle Discovery to measure ozone and chemical compounds found in the ozone layer which affect ozone chemistry and processes. UARS also measures winds and temperatures in the stratosphere as well as the energy input from the sun. Together, these help define the role of the upper atmosphere in climate and climate variability. The satellite is 35 feet long, 15 feet in diameter, weighs 13,000 pounds, and carries 10 instruments. UARS orbits at an altitude of 375 miles with an orbital inclination of 57 degrees. Designed to operate for three years, six of its ten instruments are still functioning.