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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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PREFIRE Launched

PREFIRE Launched

Prefire mission logo (credit: JPL, NASA)


CubSats showed their early promise on NASA's InSight mission by beaming back data on the robot's landing in real time on Mars. We covered that first 'field' demonstration of the precision capabilities of these micro-satellites in a previous post on Cubsats by Crazy Engineering. The tiny instruments can be inexpensively constructed using off-the-shelf parts from any ACE hardware store.

Since that first experimental demonstration at Mars, a pair of these micro-satellites has its the own dedicated mission called PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far InfraRed Experiment) that will provide critical information on the impacts climate change is having at the Earth's poles. The shoebox-sized duo were separately launched from New Zealand towards Antarctica and will follow repeated global paths covering both poles during their ten month mission.

According to NASA, data from PREFIRE will determine how much heat the Arctic and Antarctic radiate into space and how this influences global climate. The first CubeSat was launched a month ago and the second one today. Each robot performs a single task. Both are equiped with advanced infrared sensors that can map detailed surface temperature changes at the poles and how that might be affecting glacial and polar sea ice structure and stability. These infrared scans will help to better predict how the polar ice caps, surrounding oceans, and weather is being affected by a warming world.

'Small is Beautiful' was coined in the 1970's to represent the idea that small, appropriate technologies, and policies were a superior strategy to the, then, standard approach of 'bigger is better'. CubeSats are demonstrating the truth of that dictum performing environmental monitoring and space exploration on a real time basis now. WHB

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