Space Dynamics Lab to Support Newest NASA Energy Measurement Mission

The Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University announced that it has been awarded a contract to support NASA’s new space-based instrument to continue the agency’s key climate record. The contract value was not disclosed.


Under the leadership of Principal Investigator Dr. Peter Pilewskie from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, the new instrument, named Libera, will be built to continue the 40-year data record of the balance between the solar radiation entering Earth’s atmosphere and the amount absorbed, reflected, and emitted.


For decades, SDL has developed extensive environmental testing and validation capabilities for space, airborne, and miniaturized systems. This March 26 photo captures one of several chambers used at SDL for testing and calibration. (Credit: Allison Bills/Space Dynamics Laboratory)


“SDL is honored to work with Dr. Pilewskie, his team at LASP, and NASA’s Earth Science Division to provide essential ground calibration validation for the Libera flight payload, which will ensure the success of this vital, state-of-the-art science instrument,” said Alan Thurgood, SDL’s director of civil space. “SDL’s efforts for Libera continue our valued relationship with LASP supporting its mission to maintain and improve the capability to pursue key science questions.”


Accurate and persistent measurements of solar radiation wavelengths provide important information for scientists to better understand variations to the Earth’s complex climate system. Determining the difference between how much energy enters Earth from the Sun and how much energy leaves Earth is key to understanding how our climate adjusts.

Libera will measure solar radiation with wavelengths between 0.3 and 5 microns reflected by the Earth climate system and infrared radiation with wavelengths between 5 and 50 microns emitted from the Earth system as it leaves the exosphere, Earth’s outermost atmospheric layer. The sensor will also measure the total radiation leaving the Earth system at all wavelengths from 0.3 to 100 microns.


Libera will provide novel Earth radiation budget science by adding a split shortwave channel measuring radiation between 0.7 and 5 microns.


Due to the nature of space-based sensing, accurate pre-launch sensor testing is crucial to assure mission managers that sensor measurements will produce relevant and practical results. During testing, parameters are derived and potential performance is characterized to satisfy mission and science needs. Once an instrument reaches orbit and begins operation, validation of its performance is crucial to ensure that results are accurate, reproducible, and complete. Calibration is a combination of testing and validation.


“The ground calibration and validation of sensitive space-based science instruments during manufacturing is critical to proving the designed capabilities before launch into space,” said James Peterson, SDL’s calibration branch head for civil space. “It is a privilege for SDL to apply more than 50 years of experience developing extensive system, instrument, and component testing capabilities to enable Libera to provide unprecedented knowledge to the science community.”


Libera is named for the daughter of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. The name acknowledges the relationship between Libera and the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) mission instruments, which currently make the radiation balance measurements that Libera will continue. Libera will fly on the Joint Polar Satellite System-3 spacecraft. JPSS-3 is the new-generation polar-orbiting environmental satellite and part of a system that gathers global measurements of atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic conditions, including sea and land surface temperatures, vegetation, clouds, rainfall, snow and ice cover, fire locations and smoke plumes, atmospheric temperature, water vapor and ozone.


SDL has been solving the technical challenges faced by the military, science community, and industry for six decades and supports NASA’s mission to drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality, and stewardship of Earth. As one of 14 University Affiliated Research Centers, SDL serves as a subject matter expert in its core research areas to the U.S. Government, ensuring that essential engineering and technology capabilities are maintained. SDL is a research laboratory headquartered in North Logan, UT, and has offices in Albuquerque, NM; Bedford, MA; Colorado Springs, CO; Dayton, OH; Huntsville, AL; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Stafford, VA; and Washington, DC. For more information, visit