$90 million instrument designed, built by CU awaits rocket ride
A solar instrument panel designed and built by a University of Colorado lab and considered a key tool to help monitor the planet’s climate is at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida awaiting a November launch.
The instrument suite is called the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS-1. It will launch on a commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a Dragon capsule for delivery to the International Space Station.
Once there, it will monitor the total amount of sunlight hitting Earth, as well as how the light is distributed among the ultraviolet, visible and infrared wavelengths.
“We need to measure both because both affect Earth’s climate,” said Dong Wu, the TSIS-1 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
TSIS-1 was designed and built by CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, or LASP, for NASA Goddard. The contract value to LASP is $90 million and includes the instrument suite and an associated mission ground system.
CU professor Peter Pilewskie of LASP, lead mission scientist on the project, said TSIS will continue a 39-year record of measuring total solar radiation, the longest continuous climate record from space.
“These measurements are vital for understanding the climate system because the sun is the source of virtually all of Earth’s energy,” said Pilewski, also a faculty member in the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. “How the atmosphere responds to subtle changes in the sun’s output helps us distinguish between natural and human influences on climate.”
Overall satellite measurements of the sun from space have shown that changes in its radiation — during periods of high and low solar activity — measure only about 0.1 percent.
While scientists believe changes in solar output cannot explain Earth’s recent warming, a longer data set could reveal greater swings in solar radiation.
The TSIS instrument suite will be operated remotely from the LASP Space Technology Building in the CU Research Park.