Iridium Sensor Program May Lead to Earth Observation Payloads

by Matt Ball on August 19, 2010

The Iridium Communications satellite constellation has been used to observe and report on space weather phenomenon through partnership with Boeing and the John Hopkins Applied Research Lab (APL). The success of this program that uses sensors already aboard the satellites has Iridium thinking about adding earth observation and remote sensing sensors on the next-generation of Iridium satellites.

The demonstration system is in place to track the Earth’s response to plasma ejected from the sun. The system known as the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE), aggregates measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field from commercial satellites to provide a real-time view of weather in space. The aim is to launch a 24-hour system in the future that would help to forecast and predict the impacts and effects of space weather on our planet and on orbiting satellites.

The AMPERE program is funded by a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Boeing handles the data collection, processing and packaging for the Iridium satellite fleet, and worked to improve the data transfer rate for pulling data in real-time. AMPERE provides data every two to 20 seconds from each Iridium satellite and the data are available within minutes for analysis. Previously, data were only sampled once every three minutes and were available for analysis only the following day.

The next step for the APL scientists will be to develop the analytical tools to evaluate and forecast severe geomagnetic storms in space. This phase of the project is on schedule and the first release of AMPERE space weather products to the scientific community is planned for the fourth quarter of 2010.

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