NASA's AIM Cloud Mission Launches

April 26, 2007
NASA's AIM Cloud Mission Launches
The Pegasus rocket ignites to launch the AIM spacecraft into orbit. Photo credit: NASA

NASA's AIM spacecraft began its two-year mission April 25, 2007 after a flawless ride to Earth orbit aboard an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket. Launch took place at 1:26 PDT. Launch operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California ran smoothly, with no technical or weather issues causing concern.

The AIM mission is the first dedicated to exploring mysterious ice clouds that dot the edge of space in Earth's polar regions. These clouds have grown brighter and more prevalent in recent years and some scientists suggest that changes in these clouds may be the result of climate change.

"The successful AIM launch initiates an exciting new era in understanding how noctilucent clouds form and why they vary," said Principal Investigator James M. Russell, III, of Hampton University in Hampton, Va. "The coordinated AIM measurements will provide the first focused and comprehensive data set needed to unravel the mysteries of these clouds."

Noctilucent clouds are increasing in number, becoming brighter and are occurring at lower latitudes than ever before. "Such variations suggest a connection with global change," said Russell. "If true, it means that human influences are affecting the entire atmosphere, not just the region near the Earth's surface."

The Stargazer L-1011 aircraft released a Pegasus XL rocket at a drop point over the Pacific Ocean, 100 miles offshore west-southwest of Point Sur, Calif. AIM was launched at an azimuth of 192.5 degrees into a circular polar orbit of 375 miles with an inclination of 97.7 degrees.

At approximately 1:36 p.m., communications from a Tracking Data and Relay Satellite confirmed spacecraft separation, and the solar arrays deployed autonomously soon thereafter.

The spacecraft was declared operating nominally at approximately 2:44 p.m., when it passed over the Svalbard, Norway, ground station. Spacecraft bus commissioning activities will be performed during the next six days while controllers verify satisfactory performance of all spacecraft subsystems.

Throughout a 30-day check-out period, all the spacecraft subsystems and instruments will be evaluated and compared to their performance during ground testing to ensure satisfactory operation in the space environment. The instruments will maintain their protective covers to shield the near pristine optical surfaces from contamination while the spacecraft outgases volatile materials. Fourteen days after launch, the optical covers will be removed in sequence by ground commands, and the instruments will begin scientific operations.

During the next two years, AIM scientists will methodically address each of six fundamental objectives that will provide critical information needed to understand cloud formation and behavior.

"This mission has many firsts, including that Hampton University is the first historically black college and university to have the principle investigator and total mission responsibility for a NASA satellite mission," said Program Executive Victoria Elsbernd, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is responsible for launch vehicle/spacecraft integration and launch countdown management. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is responsible for the overall AIM mission management in collaboration with Hampton University, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va., is responsible for providing the Pegasus XL launch service to NASA.

AIM is the ninth small-class mission under NASA's Explorer Program, which provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas.

Source: NASA

Explore further: AIDA double mission to divert Didymos asteroid's Didymoon

Related Stories

AIDA double mission to divert Didymos asteroid's Didymoon

September 30, 2015

An ambitious joint US-European mission, called AIDA, is being planned to divert the orbit of a binary asteroid's small moon, as well as to give us new insights into the structure of asteroids. A pair of spacecraft, the ESA-led ...

Jupiter's moon Europa

September 30, 2015

Jupiter's four largest moons – aka. the Galilean moons, consisting of Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – are nothing if not fascinating. Ever since their discovery over four centuries ago, these moons have been a source ...

Big Iron gets technology boost

September 18, 2015

ESA deploys 'big iron' to communicate with its deep-space missions: three 35 m-diameter dishes employing some of the world's most advanced tracking technology. And it's about to get a boost.

Recommended for you

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Image: Pluto's blue sky

October 9, 2015

Pluto's haze layer shows its blue color in this picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The high-altitude haze is thought to be similar in nature to that seen at Saturn's moon ...

Blue skies, frozen water detected on Pluto

October 8, 2015

Pluto has blue skies and patches of frozen water, according to the latest data out Thursday from NASA's unmanned New Horizons probe, which made a historic flyby of the dwarf planet in July.

How to prepare for Mars? NASA consults Navy sub force

October 5, 2015

As NASA contemplates a manned voyage to Mars and the effects missions deeper into space could have on astronauts, it's tapping research from another outfit with experience sending people to the deep: the U.S. Navy submarine ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.