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For Release: Dec. 22, 1998

Robert D. Allen
(757) 864-6176

Michael P. Finneran
(757) 864-6121/6124

RELEASE NO. 98-098

Future Mission Could Provide Clues to Global Warming

     A new, Langley-led $173.5 million atmospheric science mission that researchers hope will lead to more accurate climate predictions has been selected for development.

     The PICASSO-CENA (Pathfinder Instruments for Cloud and Aerosol Spaceborne Observations - Climatologie Etendue des Nuages et des Aerosols) mission was selected as the primary mission of the NASA Headquarters Office of Earth Science's Earth System Science Pathfinders (ESSP) program.

     The instruments on PICASSO-CENA are designed to examine the role of clouds and small atmospheric particles known as aerosols and their impact on Earth's radiation budget -- the balance of solar energy reaching the Earth and lost to space that ultimately controls the temperature of the Earth.

     PICASSO-CENA will employ innovative light-detection and ranging (LIDAR) instrumentation to profile the vertical distribution of clouds and aerosols, while another instrument will simultaneously image the infrared (heat) emission of the atmosphere. During the daylight half of its orbit, PICASSO-CENA will measure the reflected sunlight in an oxygen-absorption band and take images of the atmosphere with a wide-field camera. PICASSO-CENA, together with the Earth Observing System satellites, will establish the scientific basis for understanding the dynamics and energetics of Earth's atmosphere in support of short-term weather and long-term climate forecasts.

     "For the first time we will be able to construct the three dimensional structures of the atmosphere to better understand the role of clouds and aerosols in Earth's climate," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for Earth Sciences, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

     The estimated mission cost of PICASSO-CENA, including launch vehicle, is $173.5 million. NASA will provide $117.4 million, with international partners providing $56.1 million. The spacecraft will be launched in 2003. PICASSO-CENA consists of a unique partnership among Langley; France's Centre National D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES); the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace, Paris, France; Hampton University of Hampton, Va., (an historically black university); Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation, Boulder, Co.; and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. France will provide the PROTEUS spacecraft, the infrared imaging system, and science analysis support for PICASSO-CENA, making the mission a true international partnership.

     "This is truly an excellent example of domestic and international partnership toward answering a major climate-related scientific question," Asrar said.

     In addition to PICASSO-CENA, NASA has chosen two additional ESSP missions, CloudSat and VOLCAM (the Volcanic Ash Mission), as alternate missions. CloudSat and VOLCAM will go through an extended development and technology assessment prior to the decision of which mission will be the primary and alternate.

     CloudSat is a mission focused on understanding the role of thick clouds in the Earth's radiation budget. CloudSat would use advanced cloud-profiling radar to provide information on the vertical structure of highly dynamic tropical cloud systems. This new radar would enable measurements of cloud properties for the first time on a global basis, revolutionizing our understanding of cloud-related issues.

     VOLCAM is a pathfinder mission for demonstrating the operational and scientific applications of monitoring volcanic clouds and aerosols from a geostationary orbit. Volcanic clouds are a potential hazard to jet aircraft. Several instances of damage to commercial airliners by volcanic ash have occurred, in at least one case nearly leading to a catastrophic crash. In addition to causing air traffic hazards, volcanic eruptions increase the amount of aerosol particles in the upper atmosphere. Increased scattering of sunlight in the upper atmosphere blocks the sunlight, leading to cooler temperatures at the Earth's surface. The information provided by VOLCAM would provide data to better represent the transport of volcanic aerosols in global atmospheric-circulation models of the Earth's climate and weather.

     The estimated mission cost of CloudSat would be $144.6 million, with NASA contributing $119.6 million. Collaboration with Canada is being explored for the provision of critical components for CloudSat's cloud-profiling radar. The estimated mission cost of VOLCAM would be $48 million, of which NASA would provide $45 million and other U.S. government agencies would provide $3 million. The VOLCAM mission is intended to launch using a "piggyback" approach involving one of several potential spacecraft of opportunity.

     The philosophy of the ESSP program is to achieve maximum science value while complementing existing or planned flight missions. The Principal Investigator (PI) is responsible for developing the flight mission hardware from selection to a launch-ready condition within 36 months, with minimal direct NASA oversight. The PI and mission team are responsible for accomplishing the stated scientific objectives and delivering resulting data to the broader Earth science community and general public as expediently as possible.

     The PICASSO-CENA website is at: http://www-picasso-cena.larc.nasa.gov/.

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