NASA has developed a novel instrument that will attempt to measure atmospheric greenhouse gases from an occultation-viewing, low-Earth-orbiting CubeSat mission, called Mini-Carb. The instrument has already proven its mettle on field campaigns.
Emily Wilson, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, will try to fly a smaller version of her patented mini-Laser Heterodyne Radiometer on an LLNL-built CubeSat platform early next year.
The Mini-Carb is built of commercially available components and can gather measurements from everywhere.
NASA will try to use this instrument in something it is doing for a long time, but it has never used laser heterodyne radiometer: measuring carbon dioxide from space.
The LHRs were adapted from radio receiver technology. The current version measures the absorption of infrared sunlight by greenhouse gases to find out their concentration. Asorbtions signals are mixed with laser light in the LHRs to achieve the easier-to-process radio frequencies of the signal.
Additionally, the mini-LHR is a very compact device and has no moving parts, what makes it very durable. It is able to measure the concentration of three different gases” carbon dioxide, water vapor and methane in Earth’s atmospheric limb. The last benefit of the instrument is its cost. It costs a small fraction to build compared with more traditional, non-CubeSat instruments.
The Mini-Carb is about the size of a brick and will fly as the only payload on 11-pound 6U CubeSat bus. The bus offers users a plug-and-play capability that allows for rapid configuration and integration.
Once the Mini-Carb arrives in orbit, will start observing the region between the upper troposphere to the lower stratosphere between six and 18 miles above the surface of the Earth. Collected information will help us understand how increasing greenhouse gas concentrations affect stratospheric circulation.
Additionally, the device could be used in studying the atmospheric conditions on other planets.