$90 mil­lion in­stru­ment de­signed, built by CU awaits rocket ride

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Monte Wha­ley

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.

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