NASA rafts await satellite data |

NASA rafts await satellite data

NASA’s rafts in the middle of Lake Tahoe are weathering the winter well and still waiting for the first measurement data from the recently launched Terra satellite.

The satellite will be over Lake Tahoe on March 12 and will present NASA with its first opportunity to collect surface temperature readings.

The Terra, a $1.3 billion satellite, was launched on Dec. 18 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California. The satellite is the first to be launched during a 15-year mission that will map the Earth and review environmental and physical changes. The yellow rafts in the middle of Lake Tahoe are part of a validation experiment and take temperature readings for comparison with the satellite measurements.

Simon Hook, a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., chose Lake Tahoe for the base of his experiment because of its size and relatively constant temperature.

“One of the problems we always face is how accurate are the satellite temperature measurements,” Hook said.

Because the rafts are able to take continuous measurements, Hook can compare the measurements with those the satellite takes.

The satellite will be over the lake for only a couple of seconds, so March 12 must be a clear day. If not, the satellite won’t be over the lake for another two weeks.

“However, this (the satellite) is still in the instrument checkout phase so the data may not be acquired,” Hook said.

Originally, the satellite was to collect data in the later part of February but there have been a few instrument delays. The satellite began to roll when burners were fired to get it in the correct orbit. This was noticed and corrected.

The rafts take continuous measurements of the lake’s surface temperature which will be downloaded by Hook in Pasadena. He will then calculate what the satellite will see by using atmospheric disturbance and wind speed equipment located on the U.S. Coast Guard’s dock in Tahoe City.

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