USU physicists lead NASA mission

Nov 14, 2023, 6:29 PM | Updated: Nov 15, 2023, 9:49 am

LOGAN — A NASA mission is being run from right here in Utah. Everything from the design and build of some high-tech equipment to mission control and research is based in Logan.

The researchers hope it could mean more partnerships in the future. For now, they’re just excited to see what they can find as NASA takes a first-ever study of gravity waves as seen from space.

It’s called the Atmospheric Waves Experiment, or AWE, and it’s one of the payloads that just launched en route to the International Space Station last week.

And now comes the anticipation.

AWE project manager Burt Lamborn, “I’m personally very excited to see what, what the scientists are going to do with this data. This will be, could revolutionize our understanding of earth’s weather connection to space weather.”

Burt Lamborn

Burt Lamborn is one of the AWE project managers. (KSL TV)

Lamborn is based at Space Dynamics Laboratory, where scientists designed the instrument that will help take a close look at gravity waves from space.

The device has four infrared telescopes that could start taking readings as soon as this weekend.

“I mean, unbelievable. When you think of how much work is put into bringing this instrument alive and then putting it on the space station,” Mike Taylor said. He’s one of the Utah State University physicists who will analyze the data.

Ludger Scherliess is a physicist on the same team.

Ludger Scherliess and Mike Taylor

Ludger Scherliess and Mike Taylor are physicists on the AWE team. (KSL TV)

“What we are trying to understand was the AWE mission is the connection between weather on the ground, tropospheric weather, and weather out in space,” Scherliess said.

It’s believed that space weather has an impact on satellite communications and GPS and how well they work at different times.

“So that energy is there and we’re trying to assess that on a global scale,” Taylor said.

What they learn could be monumental. Only time will tell.

“This is just a dream come true,” Scherliess said.

Physicists here at Utah State University will be studying those gravity waves for the next two years.

The hope is that based on what they find, NASA could eventually come up with a way to possibly forecast that space weather and when it may impact satellite communications.

In September a capsule from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft landed in the Utah desert. The OSIRIS-REx capsule collected samples from an asteroid called Bennu. The mission lasted seven years and spanned almost a half-billion miles.

The cameras on OSIRIS-REx were designed at Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory. They were used to see where to land on the asteroid.

The president of the USU lab, Dr. Jed Hancock, celebrated the cameras his teams and students created by calling it a “mission success.”

“The detectors, the electronics that bring all the information back to planet Earth (help us) to make the most important scientific decisions about where to sample and if the sample was collected properly,” Hancock said.

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USU physicists lead NASA mission