Four Projects Awarded Funding Under the In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) Program
2015 ROSES A.42 Solicitation NNH15ZDA001N Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, has selected proposals for the In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies Program in support of the Earth Science Division (ESD). The space environment imposes stringent conditions on components and systems, some of which cannot be fully tested on the ground or in airborne systems. Because of the harsh conditions, there has been, and continues to be, a need for new technologies to be validated in space prior to use in a science mission. The In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program element is intended to fill that gap.

The InVEST call was targeted to small instruments and instrument subsystems that can advance technology to enable relevant Earth science measurements. The call was limited to in-space validation only, and targeted to the CubeSat platform. The ESD has selected 4 out of a total of 23 received proposals in response to this solicitation. The first year funding for these investigations is approximately nine million dollars.

The awards are as follows (click on the name to go directly to the project abstract):

Joel Johnson, Ohio State University
CubeRRT: CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology Validation

David Osterman, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation
Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space (CIRiS)

Thomas Pagano, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
CubeSat Infrared Atmospheric Sounder (CIRAS)

Eva Peral, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
RainCube, a Precipitation Profiling Radar in a CubeSat


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Joel Johnson, Ohio State University
CubeRRT: CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology Validation
We propose the CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) Technology Validation (CubeRRT) mission to demonstrate wideband RFI mitigating backend technologies vital for future space-borne microwave radiometers. Recent passive microwave measurements below 40 GHz have shown an increase in the amount of man-made interference, corrupting geophysical retrievals in a variety of crucial science products, including soil moisture, atmospheric water vapor, sea surface temperature, sea surface winds, and many others. Spectrum for commercial use is becoming increasingly crowded, accelerating demand to open the bands reserved for passive microwave Earth observation and radio astronomy applications to general use. Due to current shared spectrum allocations, microwave radiometers must co-exist with terrestrial RFI sources. For example, the GPM Microwave Imager currently in orbit is impacted by RFI from commercial systems over both land and sea. As these sources expand over larger areas and occupy additional spectrum, it will be increasingly difficult to perform radiometry without an RFI mitigation capability. Co-existence in some cases should be possible provided that a subsystem for mitigation of RFI is included in future systems. Successful RFI mitigation will not only open the possibility of microwave radiometry in any RFI intensive environment, but will also allow future systems to operate over a larger bandwidth resulting in lower measurement noise. This crucial technology is required for the US to maintain a national capability for spaceborne microwave radiometry.

Initial progress in RFI mitigation technologies for microwave radiometry has been achieved in the SMAP mission, which is currently operating in space a digital subsystem for this purpose in a 24 MHz bandwidth centered in the protected 1413 MHz band. RFI subsystems for higher frequency microwave radiometry over the range 6-40 GHz however require a larger bandwidth, so that the capabilities of RFI mitigation backends in terms of bandwidth and processing power must also increase. To date, no such wideband subsystem has been demonstrated in space for radiometers operating above 1413 MHz.

The enabling technology is a digital Field-Programmable Gate Array-based spectrometer with a bandwidth of 1 GHz or more and capable of implementing advanced RFI mitigation algorithms such as the kurtosis and cross-frequency methods. This technology has a strong ESTO heritage, with the algorithms developed and demonstrated via the Instrument Incubator Program (IIP) and wideband backends developed under other ESTO support. The digital backend is currently at TRL 5, having been successfully tested in an RFI environment, and can be ported easily to a flight-ready firmware. Though the technology can be demonstrated for any frequency band from 1 to 40GHz, we will integrate the backend with a wideband radiometer operating over a 1 GHz bandwidth tunable from 6-40 GHz to demonstrate RFI detection and mitigation in important microwave radiometry bands. Along with a wideband dual-helical antenna, the payload will be integrated with a 6U CubeSat to demonstrate operation of the backend at TRL 7. The payload is expected to operate at a minimum duty-cycle of 25% to be compatible with spacecraft power capacity. Although the spatial resolution to be achieved will be coarse (due to the limited antenna size possible), the goal of demonstrating observation, detection, and mitigation of RFI is achievable in this configuration.

The proposed demonstration will act as an immediate risk reduction of new technologies that are necessary for future Earth science missions. The technology will allow newly enabled measurements by operating in previously untenable spectral regions over larger bandwidths. The benefits from the above technology are directly relevant to all future microwave Earth science missions, such as SCLP, GMI follow on, SMAP follow on, and others.


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David Osterman, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation
Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space (CIRiS)
The Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space (CIRiS) is an uncooled imaging infrared (7.5 um to 13 um) radiometer designed for high radiometric performance from LEO on a Cubesat spacecraft. The CIRiS design is based on a Ball aircraft-mounted instrument with modifications to improve radiometric uncertainty in the space environment. A high-emissivity blackbody source coated with carbon nanotubes reduces error in on-board calibration. Algorithms compensate the detector signal for changing external temperatures addressing another source of uncertainty. The CIRiS mission will enable constellations of simple, inexpensive Cubesats to replace larger more complex instruments for multiple applications in scientific research and land use management.


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Thomas Pagano, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
CubeSat Infrared Atmospheric Sounder (CIRAS)
The objective of the proposed effort is to develop a 6U CubeSat instrument system capable of meeting the temperature and water vapor measurement requirements of the AIRS and CrIS instruments data products in the lower troposphere. The method employed will use a infrared grating spectromter with infrared detectors and micro-cryocooler. The measurement will be made in the 4-5 micron spectral region. This work is significant in that if selected, the CIRAS will demonstrate a critical science and meteorological measurement in a significantly smaller package enabling use in constellations for improved latency. The CIRAS can also be used as a gap filler in the event of a failure of the CrIS, and thereby providing insurance for the long-term data continuity of AIRS.


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Eva Peral, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
RainCube, a Precipitation Profiling Radar in a CubeSat
RainCube, which stands for Radar in a CubeSat, is a technology demonstration mission to enable Ka-band precipitation radar technologies on a low-cost, quick-turnaround platform. The proposed mission is to develop, launch, and operate a 35.75 GHz radar payload on a 6U CubeSat. This mission will validate a new architecture for Ka-band radars and an ultra-compact deployable Ka-band antenna in a space environment. RainCube will also demonstrate the feasibility of a radar payload on a CubeSat platform.

Numerical climate and weather models depend on measurements from space-borne satellites to complete model validation and improvements. Precipitation profiling capabilities are currently limited to a few instruments deployed in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which cannot provide the temporal resolution necessary to observe the evolution of short time-scale weather phenomena and improve numerical weather prediction models. A constellation of precipitation profiling instruments in LEO would provide this essential capability, but the cost and timeframe of typical satellite platforms and instruments make this solution prohibitive. Thus, a new instrument architecture that is compatible with low-cost satellite platforms, such as CubeSats and SmallSats, will enable constellation missions and revolutionize climate science and weather forecasting.

RainCube will design, build, and test a Ka-band radar payload that is compatible with a 6U CubeSat bus and current CubeSat capabilities. The integrated CubeSat will be launched and operated from LEO, and post-processing of the on-orbit data will be used to validate the functional operation and performance of the radar payload. The proposed mission will increase the technology readiness of the Ka-band radar architecture and antenna from an entry TRL 4-5 to an exit TRL 7 in a period of performance of two years and two months.


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