NASA’s Atmospheric Wave Experiment (AWE) has successfully completed a critical test of the space environment. Scheduled for launch to the International Space Station, AWE will study gravitational waves in Earth’s atmosphere to gain deeper knowledge of the connections caused by climate systems in our atmosphere and between the atmosphere and space.
From its unique vantage point on the International Space Station, AWE will look directly into Earth’s atmosphere to investigate how gravitational waves travel through the upper atmosphere. The data collected by AWE will allow scientists to determine the physics and characteristics of atmospheric gravitational waves and how Earth’s weather affects the ionosphere, which can affect communications with satellites.
The AWE mission focuses on understanding gravity waves in the Earth’s atmosphere at altitudes between 50 and 500 kilometers, called the ionosphere-thermosphere-mesosphere system. Space weather in this region, particularly in the ionosphere, can significantly disrupt the space communication systems we rely on because of the high concentration of electrically charged particles there. By studying atmospheric gravity waves, scientists learn more about how Earth’s weather affects the properties of the upper atmosphere.
“AWE is a highly sensitive, precision science instrument designed to be installed on the International Space Station and operate in the harsh environment of space,” said Bert Lamborn, AWE project manager at the Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) at the University of Utah, where the test took place. conducted “To make sure AWE can withstand the turbulence at launch and work as intended when you get into space, SDL will test the instrument on the ground.”
The AWE instrument has been tested for electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility to ensure that it does not generate or emit electromagnetic signals that could interfere with other equipment aboard the space station, and to verify that interference from the space station will not impair AWE’s ability to generate data . The AWE was also subjected to vibration testing on a shaking table, which simulated the expected start-up vibration that the AWE would experience. During thermal vacuum testing, the AWE was subjected to simulated flight environments, including changing extreme temperatures between hot and cold. Engineers performed a full system calibration to ensure the instrument meets mission requirements and to demonstrate its performance and limitations under operational conditions.