HAMPTON, Va. -- A mission-proven satellite instrument that collects data used to study global climate change was recently approved for flight by NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
CERES FM-5 was selected to fly on the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) mission in 2010, continuing a long legacy of climate data recording at NASA.
The CERES, or Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System, FM-5 (the flight model designation) instrument was originally built as part of NASA's Earth Observing System, and has sister instruments currently flying on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellite missions. NASA Langley Research Center manages the CERES program and will lead the effort to prepare the instrument for flight. Northrop Grumman Space Technologies, who built the original CERES, will do modifications on the instrument for NPP.
The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) is a tri-agency environmental satellite program jointly directed by an executive committee composed of the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense and NASA. Congress certified NPOESS in June 2006, and the program was left with the potential for major gaps in global climate observations. The addition of the CERES instrument to NPP minimizes the risk for a gap to occur in the Earth radiation budget measurement.
"We still will have continuity in those key measurements," said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters.
"The changes CERES will monitor in the Earth's radiation budget over the next decade are likely to be one of the most powerful tests we can make of the accuracy of our predictions of future climate change," according to Bruce Wielicki, the principal investigator of the CERES mission. "The addition of CERES to NPP dramatically improves our chance of achieving that critical test."
CERES FM-5 will continue a nearly 30-year record of Earth radiation budget measurements that is less than three cycles of sunspot activity. The instrument will operate in conjunction with the Visible/Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite instrument on NPP to study changes of the Earth's energy balance and key changes in clouds and aerosols -- two of the largest uncertainties in the climate system.
How clouds change in a warming Earth remains one of the key scientific mysteries in predicting future climate change. The CERES FM-5 instrument will determine the effect of changing clouds on the Earth's energy balance from space.
Earth's outgoing energy has two components: thermal radiation emitted by the Earth's surface and atmosphere, and solar radiation reflected back to deep space by the oceans, lands, aerosols and clouds.
It is the balance, which scientists refer to as the Earth's "radiation budget," between the incoming energy from the Sun and outgoing energy back to space that determines Earth's temperature and climate. This balance is controlled by both natural and human-induced changes, giving scientists a wide range of questions to study.
For the future NPOESS system, the NPP mission was designed as a technology risk reduction measure and to transition new observational capabilities developed in NASA's current Earth Observing System. As highly accurate climate change observations have become a critical element beyond weather data, overlapping data are essential to improving accuracy in climate prediction.
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