NASA is reporting that crucial research experiments from the ISS were returned to Earth on Oct 25, via a reusable SpaceX cargo module. The SpaceX module had previously delivered a replacement for the ailing SeaWinds instrument on board the QuikScat Satellite. It also delivered a 3D printer to the ISS.
On Sept. 20, NASA replaced a critical satellite instrument used by meteorologists, the SeaWinds scatterometer, with the new ISS-RapidScat scatterometer. The ISS-RapidScat satellite was originally a spare part in the NASA inventory, an exact duplicate of the instrument it is replacing. It was updated and remodeled before being renamed and sent to the ISS to replace the SeaWinds instrument.
The SeaWinds scatterometer became disabled in 2009, and had been in service since its inception in 2001. Results from the ISS-RapidScat satellite instrument will provide critical wind speed information to meteorologists and hurricane forecasters for the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). News of the successful delivery of this instrument, and the subsequent successful return of the experiments from the ISS aboard the SpaceX module had scientists from NASA invigorated.
There are numerous methods and instruments used by weather forecasters, most earth based in nature. But the addition of a fully functional scatterometer satellite on the ISS gives forecasters a much broader tool for the subtle details relating to hurricanes and other massive storm systems. Airplanes and ground based Doppler radar only go so far and the ISS-RapidScat satellite can, “see through clouds and light rain,” said Mark Bourassa, hurricane research associate from Florida State.
Researchers indicated that this latest addition to the ISS would outperform the previous version, because the ISS is much closer to earth than the satellite carrying the inoperable SeaWinds scatterometer, the QuikScat satellite. The new instruments close proximity to the earth’s surface will allow it to send back much higher resolution images and surface wind speed readings. The return of the NASA science experiments from the ISS was well received by researchers, as some of the results relate to the study of wind speed.
Meteorologists use trailing winds around the outside edges of a storm system to forecast hurricanes and typhoons, and with this knowledge in hand, create modeling information designed to indicate probable targeted movement information. Currently there are only two other operational scatterometers in use today, both owned by the European Space Agency (ESA). ISS-RapidScat technology will be brought online rapidly, and in conjunction with the ESA’s two instruments currently onboard the MetOp spacecraft, a combined coverage area of 90 percent of the earth’s surface will be attained.
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX, is based in Hawthorne, CA. The SpaceX Dragon module can ferry cargo and astronauts into outer space, although at this time, it only delivers cargo into low earth orbit, to the ISS. The project was initially envisioned to carry U.S. astronauts into space, and the company is currently tweeking plans, and modifying the pressured area of its Dragon modules, in an effort to allow NASA to discontinue using Russian spacecraft to deliver its astronauts to the International Space Station.
All SpaceX Dragon modules are launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 two stage rocket into space. SpaceX maintains a rocket development facility near McGregor, TX, in addition to two launch facilities, one at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, CA, and another at Cape Canaveral, FL.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) administers the ISS RapidScat instrument. The returning science experiments from the ISS will be of great help to JPL researchers, as the experiments brought back to earth by the SpaceX module include detailed information about, “long-duration human spaceflight in deep space,“ said the director of the ISS, Sam Scimemi, adding that this information was “critical” as researchers at JPL and NASA strive to achieve NASA’s goal of long-term, deep space exploration.
By Jim Donahue