Optical Profiling of the Atmospheric Limb CubeSat Experiment

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Matt Jeppesen1, Michael J Taylor2, Charles Swenson2 and Alan Marchant2, (1)Space Dynamics Laboratory, North Logan, UT, United States, (2)Utah State University, Logan, UT, United States
The Earth’s lower thermosphere is an important interface region between the neutral atmosphere and the “space weather” environment. While the high-latitude region of the thermosphere responds promptly to energy inputs, relatively little is known about the global/regional response to these energy inputs. Global temperatures are predicted to respond within 3-6 hours, but the details of the thermal response of the atmosphere as energy transports away from high-latitude source regions is not well understood. The Optical Profiling of the Atmospheric Limb (OPAL) mission aims to characterize this thermal response through observation of the temperature structure of the lower thermosphere at mid- and low-latitudes.

The OPAL instrument is designed to map global thermospheric temperature variability over the critical “thermospheric gap” region (~100-140 km altitude) by spectroscopic analysis of molecular oxygen A-band emission (758 – 768 nm). The OPAL instrument is a grating-based imaging spectrometer with refractive optics and a high-efficiency volume holographic grating (VHG). The scene is sampled by 7 parallel slits that form non-overlapping spectral profiles at the focal plane with resolution of 0.5 nm (spectral), 1.5 km (limb profiling), and 60 km (horizontal sampling). A CCD camera at the instrument focal plane delivers low noise and high sensitivity. The instrument is designed to strongly reject stray light from daylight regions of the earth.

The OPAL mission is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) CubeSat-based Science Missions for Geospace and Atmospheric Research program. The OPAL instrument and mission will be designed, built and executed by a team comprised of students and professors from Utah State University, Dixie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, with support from professional scientists and engineers from the Space Dynamics Laboratory and Hawk Institute for Space Science.