January 19, 2011

Parasol satellite mission could be extended

Parasol completed its 6th year in orbit on 18 December 2010. This mission to observe clouds and aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere has been a great a success for CNES, which is now considering extending it.

19 January 2011

6 years observing the atmosphere

The 120-kg Parasol microsatellite was placed into a 705-km orbit in the A-Train constellation of NASA/CNES Earth-observing satellites.

With its fuel running low, Parasol’s orbit was lowered in December 2009 to ensure the safety of the other satellites in the constellation.

Parasol’s POLDER-3 instrument payload is a wide-field imaging radiometer.

It’s an instrument that measures the direction and polarization of light reflected in various wavelengths by the atmosphere,” says Thérèse Barroso, in charge of Parasol operations for CNES.

Man-made or natural aerosols polarize solar radiation by scattering it in the atmosphere.

Aerosols are of interest to scientists because they thus “filter” sunlight and play a role in regulating Earth’s radiation balance—which is how the Parasol mission came about.

Mission extension to ensure data continuity

Initially designed to last 2 years, the Parasol mission has already been extended several times and was expected to end late last year.

Under the process established at the end of 2009 for extending missions, the science community requested a 1st extension in 2010 of one year to cover operations for 2011.

Given the satellite’s excellent health, a new request has now been submitted to cover 2012.

One of the aims of this request is to enable simultaneous measurements with the Glory satellite that NASA is scheduled to launch in February,” explains Thérèse Barroso.

The Glory mission is also designed to study aerosols and scientists are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to compare measurements from the 2 instruments.

The other aim of this new mission extension is to ensure data continuity, which is vital for effective monitoring of climate change,” adds Barroso.

The board that studies mission extension requests is expected to convene in late March and make its recommendations in April.