NASA is set to launch on Thursday Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, mission to to study the dynamic region where space and Earth’s uppermost atmosphere meet. It is the first NASA science mission to fly an instrument as a commercially hosted payload, the US space agency said on Wednesday.
The mission will fly aboard SES-14, a commercial communications satellite. Space is not completely empty. It is teeming with fast-moving charged particles and electric and magnetic fields that guide their motion. At the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, the charged particles, part of the upper atmosphere – called the ionosphere – co-exist with the upper reaches of the neutral atmosphere, called the thermosphere.
The two commingle and influence one another constantly. This interplay – and the role terrestrial weather, space weather and Earth’s own magnetic field each have in it – is the focus of GOLD’s mission. “The upper atmosphere is far more variable than previously imagined, but we don’t understand the interactions between all the factors involved,” said Richard Eastes, GOLD principal investigator at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“That’s where GOLD comes in: For the first time, the mission gives us the big picture of how different drivers meet and influence each other,” Eastes added. Arianespace, a commercial aerospace company, will be launching GOLD’s host commercial communications satellite, SES-14, for SES from Kourou, French Guiana. The launch coverage by NASA television will start at 5 pm EST (3.30 am Friday, India time).