In May, IceCube was deployed from the ISS. A month later, we activated scientific operations to collect global information about atmospheric ice clouds in submillimeter wavelengths.
The box-sized satellite created the first large-scale distribution of atmospheric ice in the 883 GHz band - an important frequency at submillimeter wavelength for studying cloudy ice and its impact on the Earth’s climate.
IceCube is a tiny spacecraft deployed with the ISS in May 2017. With his help, it was possible to use the technology of the 883 GHz space radiometer, created by Virginia Diodes (Virginia) in the framework of the NASA study. It is able to determine the critical atmospheric cloud characteristics of ice at altitudes of 5-15 km.
For the first time, NASA researchers used submillimeter wavelength bands that fall between the microwave and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum to study ice clouds. But before IceCube, such tools were not used in the devices.
Now IceCube is a working submillimeter radiometric system at a commercial price. It is important that the device provides a global view on the distribution of the cloud ice of the planet. The definition of atmospheric cloud ice needs instruments tuned to a wide frequency range. But it is also necessary to fly over submillimeter sensors. This wavelength fills a significant gap of data in the middle and upper troposphere, where ice clouds are often too opaque for IR and visible sensors.
The IceCube map is the first of its kind and opens the door to future space observations of global ice clouds using submillimeter wave technology.
The challenge was to have a commercial receiver sensitive enough to capture and measure atmospheric cloud ice using as little energy as possible.
As a result, the agency plans to integrate this type of receiver into a radiometer to visualize the ice cloud in the ACE mission. It assesses daily the global distribution of icy clouds that affect the terrestrial radiation of infrared energy into space and the reflection of incoming solar energy.
Dong Woo is the lead researcher at IceCube. It demonstrates a commercial radiometric 883 GHz radiometer. With its help, we created the first cloud ice map at this frequency.
In addition to demonstrating submillimeter observations from space, scientists obtained important data on how to effectively develop the IceCube mission, identifying redundant systems and those that can be discarded. The price has always influenced the choice and in this case making decisions was even more difficult due to the low budget. The team was supposed to create a test model and a flight model in a short time. However, they managed to fit into the budget and time.
Developers used off-the-shelf components, including a VDI radiometer. The components came from several commercial suppliers and did not always function harmoniously, due to which they had to be modified.
IceCube is not perfect because there is noise and small errors in the radiometer data. However, it can be used to make a measurement that is useful for science. The main goal is to show that the mission is possible.
Tiny satellites often play an important role in research, demonstration of new technologies, scientific reviews and educational work. With their help, they study outer space, observe the planet, solve fundamental problems, create scientific tools and demonstrate new methods of observation.