Observing Atmospheric Gravity Waves from Space

Matthew Horsley | 20-ERD-007

Project Overview

Our primary motivation was to develop science and technology tools and capabilities to meet future national-security challenges related to missions that operate in the earth's middle and upper atmosphere. Given its remote nature and rarefied state, conditions in the earth's middle and upper atmospheres are poorly known. And while conditions in this remote region of the earth's atmosphere are poorly known, it is believed that atmospheric gravity waves can strongly influence conditions at these high altitudes. However, while gravity waves have been studied in the past, they are still poorly understood. Our research project addressed an urgent need for inexpensive approaches for sensing atmospheric gravity waves propagating in the earth's atmosphere. We developed an inexpensive, small satellite-based capability to remotely measure properties of the upper atmosphere with high resolution that can provide a method to observe gravity waves and their effects over global scales, offering a capability to determine the sources, distributions, and characteristics of gravity waves across the globe.

In order to meet our goals, we developed a set of requirements for a remote-sensing payload capable of being hosted on a small satellite, designed a dual optical telescope assembly to meet these requirements, developed custom camera software to operate the instrument, researched methods to control our instrument while in orbit to maximize scientific output, and developed a suite of software tools to process the raw data to detect and characterize an atmospheric gravity wave. Some important outcomes of our work include a partnership with satellite operators to make measurements from orbiting platforms, a collaboration with other scientific projects studying atmospheric gravity waves, and an instrument based on our design that is destined for insertion on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the DoD's space test program.

Mission Impact

The significance of this research to LLNL missions is threefold. First, our research demonstrated that it is possible to remotely sense properties of the earth's atmosphere at high altitudes where conventional methods cannot reach or are prohibitively expensive. This is important because LLNL has important missions which occur/operate at these high altitudes and currently it is difficult to get precise data on conditions at these altitudes. Our technology can provide a means to collect this information in an affordable manner. Second, the technology we developed under this LDRD directly led to an opportunity (for another project) to build an instrument based on our conceptual instrument design and host it on the ISS. This is an exciting opportunity to operate an instrument on the ISS and potentially build science collaborations with other instrument groups on the ISS. New research directions enabled by our research include building on these new collaborations by exploring the possibility to combine the measurements generated by the different instruments on the ISS instrument cluster located on STP-H9 (AWE, VIPRE, ECLIPSE, and SOHIP).

Publications, Presentations, and Patents

McGuffin, D., et al. 2022, "Retrieval of Gravity Waves from Satellite Stellar Occultation Measurements." Virtual presentation, AWE Workshop, March 2022. LLNL-PRES-832899.

Horsley, M., et al. 2022. "SOHIP Presentation at AWE Workshop." Virtual presentation, AWE Workshop, March 2022. LLNL-PRES-833962.

McGuffin, D., et al. 2022. "Observation of Gravity Waves from Satellites Using Atmospheric Stellar Occultation." Poster, SPARC Gravity Waves Symposium, Frankfurt Am Main March 2022. LLNL-PRES-832996.

McGuffin, D., et al. 2022. "Observing the Upper-Atmosphere with Satellite Stellar Occultation Measurements." Presentation, Tri-Valley Astronomy Club, Livermore April 2022. LLNL-PRES-833916.

McGuffin, D., et al. 2022. "Stratospheric Temperature Measurements from NanoSatellite Observations of Stellar Occultation Bending." Poster presentation AGU Fall Meeting 2022, December 2022 LLNL-ABS-838220.

McGuffin, D., et al. 2021. "Observing Atmospheric Refraction with Stellar Occultation: Case Study with Data from Tyvak-0172." Technical Report, LLNL-TR-826936.

Horsley, M., et al. 2020. "Observing the Earth's Middle Atmosphere From Space." Presentation, DARPA, AtmoSense Proposers Day. Arlington, VA. Feb 2020.

Horsley, M., et al, 2020. "Stellar Occultation Hypertemporal Imaging Payload (SOHIP)", Presentation, FY2021 DOD Space Experiment Review Board (SERB), Alexandria, VA, August 2020. LLNL-PRES-806052.

Horsley, M., et al, 2020. "Project Monumental Proposal." DARPA AtmoSense Proposal, Virtual April 2020. LLNL-PROP-809563.

Horsley, M., et al, 2020. "Nanosat-Based Stellar Occultation." Presentation, Tri-valley Astronomy Club, Tri-Valley Astronomy Club, Livermore July 2020. LLNL-PRES-812558.