The Applied Physics Laboratory has been awarded a NASA contract worth up to $600 million over 12 years to study the sun and its effects on Earth. The contract was awarded by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on June 28. Under the terms of the contract, APL will design, develop and operate some of the missions involving multiple spacecraft for the agency's Living With a Star and Solar Terrestrial Probes programs.
"This contract is recognition of APL's extraordinary space research accomplishments and a vote of confidence in our future contributions," says Tom Krimigis, APL's Space Department head. Although the near-term impact on personnel requirements within the Space Department will be minimal, he says the award "has the potential to give our Space Department an abundance of work for the next decade."
"Living With a Star-related missions will start gearing up just as our work in some of the existing programs, such as CONTOUR, MESSENGER and STEREO, is slowing down," Krimigis continues. "And, of course, working with our colleagues at NASA Goddard and in the broader science community on such a pioneering program will be both rewarding and exciting."
This partnership with NASA Goddard stems from the Lab's long-term relationship with NASA. In a letter to Congress last year citing some reasons for establishing this partnership, NASA stated, "For over 30 years, NASA has had a relationship with APL. During this long interaction, APL has become particularly strong in the Sun-Earth Connection theme and now provides essential engineering capability to GSFC in implementing this program."
APL Director Richard Roca says, "This coalition with NASA Goddard and with other industry, institutional and interagency partners will have far-reaching effects, and we're proud to be participating in such an important effort."
Living With a Star and Solar Terrestrial Probes programs are part of the Sun-Earth Connection, one of four science themes within NASA Headquarters' Office of Space Science, located in Washington, D.C. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., manages both programs.
LWS missions will help scientists better understand the sun's effects on humans and our planet. "The goals are to address aspects of the sun-Earth system that affect life and society, specifically effects on humans in space and on satellite operations, power and communications, and global climate change," says Ken Potocki, APL's project manager for LWS. "APL is currently teaming with NASA Goddard to provide engineering and science support in defining a Geospace Missions Network scenario."
Two key focuses of the program are effects on satellite systems and human radiation exposure. "Society has become so reliant on satellites for things such as communications and navigation that it's imperative we learn more about our sun and how it affects us," says Larry Zanetti, APL's project scientist for LWS. "Radiation exposure from solar storms affects airline crews and astronauts," he adds. "And because of this, during recent major storm events, polar airline flights were rerouted and the International Space Station was put on round-the-clock alert.
"Living With a Star missions will help scientists better predict solar events and determine ways to protect against damaging effects," Zanetti adds.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory, the first LWS mission, will be built by NASA Goddard and is slated for launch in 2006.
NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program is a continuous sequence of flexible, cost-capped missions designed to systematically study the sun-Earth system. STP missions will focus on how and why the sun varies, and how Earth and the planets respond.
Scheduled to launch this fall, the TIMED (Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere, Energetics and Dynamics) spacecraft-- designed, built and operated by APL--is the first STP mission. STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory), the third STP mission, is now in the design phase at APL. The Lab also will build and operate the twin STEREO spacecraft. The two observatories are scheduled to launch in 2005.