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UCF GOLD Project Makes Critical Step on Path to Space

ORLANDO, April 07, 2015 – A contract award to SES Government Solutions puts UCF’s Global-Scale Observations of Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission on track to launch no earlier than Fall, 2017.

The award, made by the University of Colorado, a partner in the project, will give the GOLD payload the ride it needs to geostationary orbit on board SES-14, a communications satellite to be stationed over the Americas. From there, the microwave-sized device will transmit data of how Earth’s upper atmosphere responds to solar impacts back to scientists for analysis.

“The images that GOLD will take are unprecedented, said Richard Eastes, UCF principal investigator on the mission. “This mission will be the first to make images of the temperature and composition changes over a hemisphere. It’s something that scientists have wanted since the beginning of space exploration.”

The satellite flight contract and the recent successful completion of a NASA confirmation review mean the project, selected by NASA in 2013 for $64 million, is meeting all the necessary milestones in preparation for fabrication and launch, Eastes said.

The SES Governmental Solutions contract includes satellite construction, launch and two years of on-orbit operations with options to extend on an annual basis. The satellite has a life expectancy of 15 years.

Once the GOLD instrument is in orbit, it will stay above one location and send back near-real-time images every half hour – except near midnight – of the hemisphere below. Close to midnight the Sun is in a position to damage the instrument.

The images will be used by scientists to study the coupling between the space environment and Earth’s upper atmosphere, including space weather, which affects our planet and can interrupt many of our modern technologies, including cell phones, GPS usage or electrical power transmission.

After launch, two years of data collection are planned, which will be used by scientists around the world. Eastes says that the instrument is likely to work beyond the two years currently planned, and if it does, he hopes that NASA can provide funding for data collection to continue.

In addition to images of the Earth, there will be observations of stars and the Earth’s horizon that can be used to understand how the boundary between Earth and space varies due to the changes in the space weather as well as terrestrial weather. Scientists expect the effects of some terrestrial weather events- such as strong thunderstorms, hurricanes and typhoons – to be seen in the data.

In addition to the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), GOLD partners include the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the University of California at Berkeley, Computational Physics Inc. and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

UCF is the first Florida university to lead a NASA mission and fully intends to attract others in the future, said Ray Lugo, director of the Florida Space Institute.

Written by:

Barb Compton Abney: Director, Marketing & Communications / UCF Office of Research & Commercialization