News / Science & Technology

Mini-Satellites to Help Predict Earth's Climate

Mini-Satellites to Help Predict Earth's Climatei
X
January 16, 2014
The difference between the amount of energy the Earth receives from the sun and the energy it radiates back to space affects whether our planet's climate warms or cools. For now, nobody can measure that temperature difference precisely, but scientists at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, in Maryland, plan to change that, using an array of small, inexpensive satellites called ‘cubesats.’ VOA’s George Putic has more.
TEXT SIZE - +
George Putic
— The difference between the amount of energy the Earth receives from the sun and the energy it radiates back to space affects whether our planet's climate warms or cools. For now, nobody can measure that temperature difference precisely, but scientists at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, in Maryland, plan to change that, using an array of small, inexpensive satellites called ‘cubesats’.

A cubesat is not much larger than a loaf of bread, but provides a compact orbiting home for a host of sensors and instruments.

Scientific breakthroughs over the past decade have made it possible to build cheaper and lighter satellites that can still hold all of the equipment of much larger spacecraft - communications, navigation and power generators, along with the payload for their assigned task.

Orbiting cubesats

The Applied Physics Lab has sent two cubesats into orbit, and they are proving to be so versatile that more launches are already planned.

Bill Swartz is the leading scientist of a project called RAVAN that will use cubesats to better predict the Earth’s changing climate. “This would be used to measure what scientists believe to be a small imbalance between the incoming solar and outgoing, reflected and emitted radiation from the Earth that will drive future climate,” he said.

Swartz said the main sensor, called the radiometer, will be built from one of the blackest materials known - carbon nanotubes.

“One of the nice things about this technology is: It’s very black, and if we’re trying to measure the radiation being emitted or reflected from the earth we want a very, very black substance,” he said.

Nanotech device

The first RAVAN cubesat will be launched next year to see how the nanotube device works.

“So, hopefully, within the next couple of years we will have raised the so-called technical readiness level of the carbon nanotube absorber that’s used in the spacecraft and some other key elements of that technology. And that would then be available for a future mission,” said Swartz.

The first satellite will be positioned between 550 and 750 kilometers above the Earth, allowing it to monitor the entire planet.

Later, a whole constellation of 30 to 40 cubesats will simultaneously register the radiation from all points on Earth, day side and night side, helping to answer the question that affects us all: what is the long-term future of our planet’s climate?

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid