NASA launches its Cosmic Background Explorer, or CBE, satellite

Written by Yessenia Funes, CNN Written by T & i editors With its vision to build a carbon-free, sustainable world, NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite has always been about “taking the science home.” The spacecraft, …

Written by Yessenia Funes, CNN Written by T & i editors

With its vision to build a carbon-free, sustainable world, NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite has always been about “taking the science home.” The spacecraft, which launched on Feb. 15, 1991, gathers data on climate, the environment and life here on Earth from a vantage point 600 miles above our planet’s surface.

In addition to being a vital tool for scientists, EO-1’s use as a communication tool has also been hugely successful; from the launch of the Titanic soundtrack in 1993 (complete with prog-rock keyboard plink) to reaching out to its audience directly via a web page set up in 2007. Its Open Platform — or World Wide Web address, if you will — promotes public access to data to let people and communities navigate its remarkable contents.

But despite this capacity, one challenge has always been in reaching all the millions of people the Earth Observing-1 mission says it wants to reach — poor people, those who live in the hardest-to-reach parts of the planet, who would previously have been untouched by EO-1’s information.

After almost 25 years, EO-1 has made a quantum leap forward in capabilities with the launch of its companion mission, EO-2 — also known as the Cosmic Background Explorer, or CBE.

Having also employed the use of solar array technology, CBE promises to take EO-1 to a new level of data production. Its ability to track temperature changes in various locations around the world and process that data in real time, will enable it to provide an unprecedented vision of the Earth.

The program, which will continue until 2023, will further allow researchers to collect information on a much more granular level, including local humidity, rainfall, vegetation changes and the impacts of a warming planet, particularly on the Arctic.

“Because we gather data on the CMB, we will be able to detect many significant features that we did not expect to see,” Dr. Douglas Cline of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center explained in a pre-launch press release in April.

“To gather the data on the Earth, EO-1 must be replaced by EO-2, and the same can be said for any solar technology instrument. Even with the CMB observations we will see, we do not have to spend more than we are currently doing for better and stronger observations.

“It’s a mathematical and computational problem. You cannot remove these instruments, re-engineer them, or find new ways to pull the data. This is a time to reconsider which instruments work the best, and go for those that are best suited to the data they are designed to collect,” he said.

Besides CBE, EO-1 — the “Weather Genie” — is also using an update to its geostationary antenna, which promises to allow it to distribute more data to different parts of the world.

Now with solar arrays giving it enough power to transmit data from 360 degrees, its power-producing device — known as the Operational Land Imager, or OLI — will be able to transmit data to the ground 100 percent uninterrupted.

It will not only be able to look at global features, like ocean coverage or land cover, but will also be able to make more precise measurements of clouds and ice, which has been a much-needed component of EO-1’s data.

Once completed, it will include the ability to measure light — or gravitational waves — using polarized electronic panels.

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