SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy rocket carries NRL science payloads into orbitNews
June 25, 2019
WASHINGTON. U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) researchers designed and built two science payloads that went up with SpaceX?s Falcon 9 Heavy rocket launch June 25.
The first of the two payloads, the Small Wind and Temperature Spectrometer (SWATS), will help researchers understand the dynamics of the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere. The second, the Tether Electrodynamic Propulsion CubeSat Experiment (TEPCE), will investigate orbital energy created by the Earth’s magnetic field that could propel future spacecraft.
Operating in low Earth orbit, SWATS will monitor atmospheric densities, winds, and temperatures while traveling in an elliptical orbit at altitudes between 350 and 700 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The payload rides aboard NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM).
U.S. Navy researchers are studying the ionosphere because of its effects on over-the-horizon radar and other long-range communications technologies.
TEPCE is a miniaturized satellite, known as a CubeSat. Once in space, it will divide into two objects connected by a 1-kilometer-long tether. The system will collect electrons from the Earth’s space environment and transmit the electrons from one object to the other.
Its designers expect the Earth’s magnetic field to exert a force on the electrons in the tether, producing a velocity change that will affect both the magnitude and direction of the spacecraft. This could signify new propulsion capabilities for spacecraft, according to company officials.