NASA will launch two identical miniature satellites next week to understand how the Earth's atmosphere clouds the radio signals we rely on for communication and navigation.
The pair will consist of a total of 24 satellites satellite launch aboard the SpaceX missile Falcon Heavy, which is flying into space for the third time. The launch date is scheduled for June 24 after some delays. The two identical spacecraft are Cubesats, miniature satellites that were originally used only in near-Earth orbits, but are now sometimes used for interplanetary missions at home. When orbiting near Earth, they provide scientists with important information about how radio signals can be disturbed as they pass through the upper atmosphere of the planet.
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Earth's ionosphere, a layer in the upper atmosphere bombarded by solar and cosmic radiation and therefore full of charged particles contains "structured bubbles". These bubbles can distort radio signals that interfere with military and aviation communications and GPS signals, NASA said in a statement, particularly about the Equator.
If we learn more about these bubbles, we can avoid that According to NASA, they cause signal problems. However, scientists currently do not know when bubbles will form or how they will change over time. "It's difficult to inspect these bubbles from the ground," said Rick Doe, payload program manager for the E-TBEx mission, in the statement. "When you see bubbles begin to form, they move."
NASA hopes the E-TBEx satellites will be able to study the development of bubbles before they begin to distort radio waves, Doe said. That would help the scientists to better understand the underlying physics of the bubbles.
Scientists already know that this physics has something to do with the ionized particles in this layer of Earth's atmosphere. Particles in the ionosphere are split into a "sea of positive and negative particles, called plasma," NASA said in the statement. The plasma is mixed with neutral gases such as the breath.
The Complex Recipe Means Earth's Atmosphere and Bubbles Form It responds to various factors, including electric and magnetic fields, as well as Earth and space weather. Scientists believe that pressure waves from large storm systems can enter the ionosphere and create winds that can affect the motion and shape of the bubbles. The charged particles of the plasma would also be affected by space weather, which can affect electric and magnetic fields.
The two E-TBEx satellites transmit radio signals with three frequencies that are close to those of communication and GPS satellites. according to NASA. These signals are sent to ground receiving stations so that scientists can detect tiny changes in the phase or amplitude of the signals. Scientists can then attribute the disturbances to the region of the ionosphere that they have passed through.
"All signals are generated at the same time – with the same phase – so you can determine how they are distorted when passing through the ionosphere bubbles," said Doe. "If you then look at the distortions, you can return information about the degree of roughness and the density of the bubbles."
The two satellites aboard Falcon Heavy are joined by similar beacons aboard NOAA's six COSMIC-2 satellites. Using a combination of measurements from all eight satellites, scientists can simultaneously study the distortions from multiple angles.
The scientists hope that the project will help them develop strategies to avoid signal distortion. For example, NASA said airlines might be able to choose a radio frequency for communications less susceptible to bladder interference, or the military could postpone a major operation until a disruptive ionospheric bubble is over. For full coverage of the launch of the SpaceX Falcon heavy rocket and the on-board payloads.
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