We have surprisingly little knowledge of weather. When specifically does a cloud rain? How do these clouds form? We don’t have good answers to these questions. Getting those answers is an electrical engineering problem – one that a handful of professors and NASA are solving with CubeSats.
Historically, we’ve used large satellites and ground-based systems to track weather patterns, but CubeSat arrays are becoming a viable option. In this episode, Daniel Bogdanoff sits down with the leading researchers in this area to hear about the challenges and advancements being made in this area.
Charles Norton – JPL Engineering and Science Directorate POC
Joel T Johnson – ECE Department Chair and Professor at The Ohio State University
Christopher Ball – Research Scientist at The Ohio State University
Dr. V. Chandrasekar (Chandra) – ECE Professor at Colorado State University
Eva Peral – Radar Digital Systems Group Supervisor at JPL
Space is changing. Big, expensive satellites used to be our only option. But, as you’ve probably heard on this podcast, when it comes to technology the world is always shrinking – and satellites are no exception. And that’s what we’re exploring today, specifically, the way cubesats (miniature satellites) are revolutionizing the way we look at earth’s weather.
Hi, my name is Daniel Bogdanoff, and welcome to EEs Talk Tech. In our last episode, I brought you all along with me to Wallops flight facility in Virginia for a rocket launch. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and I wanted to cover more than was reasonable for a single episode. So today, we’re blending the style of last episode and our standard interview-style podcast. I sat down with some EE professors from Ohio State University and Colorado State University to talk about their cube sat projects – all of which monitor weather using radiometers or radar and are pretty high tech.
I also apologize in advance for the background noise during the interviews, I’ve done the best I can to minimize the noise and voiceover parts I feel are hard to hear. I’ve also used clips from their NASA TV presentations wherever possible.
Let’s get started, and hear a little bit about the advantages of CubeSats from Charles Norton.
Advantages of CubeSats [1:05]
Cubesats are nice not just because they’re cheaper and smaller. Thanks to the miniaturization of new technologies in both their physical size and their power consumption, we can deploy more systems, more rapidly, and at a lower cost. They also require smaller teams to develop and operate, and can even have higher measurement accuracy than existing assets.
At its core, CubeRRT is all about making radiometry measurements better by processing out man made emissions – leaving only the earth’s natural emissions.
From NASA: “Microwave radiometers provide important data for Earth science investigations, such as soil moisture, atmospheric water vapor, sea surface temperature and sea surface winds. Man-made radiofrequency interference (RFI) reduces the accuracy of microwave radiometer data, thus the CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology Validation (CubeRRT) mission demonstrates technologies to detect and remove these unwanted RFI signals. Successful completion of the CubeRRT mission demonstrates that RFI processing is feasible in space, high volumes of data may be processed aboard a satellite, and that future satellite-based radiometers may utilize RFI mitigation.”
Instead of having a big satellite sitting in geosynchronous orbit, an array of CubeSats can be put in orbit such that they each pass over the same spot at set intervals. With some careful calibration, differences in the measurement equipment gets normalized out and they get good weather data.
From JPL: “TEMPEST-D is a technology demonstration mission to enable millimeter wave radiometer technologies on a low-cost, short development schedule. The mission … reduces the risk, cost, and development duration for a future TEMPEST mission, which would provide the first ever temporal observations of cloud and precipitation processes on a global scale. For TEMPEST-D, JPL developed a mm-wave radiometer payload that operates at five channels from 89 to 182 GHz and fits in a 4U volume within the 6U CubeSat.”
RainCube [11:47] & the Origami Antenna
From JPL: “RainCube (Radar in a CubeSat) is a technology demonstration mission to enable Ka-band precipitation radar technologies on a low-cost, quick-turnaround platform. RainCube developed a 35.75 GHz radar payload to operate within the 6U CubeSat form factor. This mission will validate a new architecture for Ka-band radars and an ultra-compact lightweight deployable Ka-band antenna in a space environment to raise the technology readiness level (TRL) of the radar and antenna from 4 to 7 within the three year life of the program. RainCube will also demonstrate the feasibility of a radar payload on a CubeSat platform.”
Foldable Antenna [12:20]
1.5U volume, Ka-band 35.75 GHz RADAR antenna.
Why Measure Weather from Space? [15:00]
These are just a few of the cubesat projects that went up on the OA9 rocket launch. To hear more about that, check out EEs Talk Tech electrical engineering podcast episode #29 – The Long Road to Space.