J23.1 RAVAN CubeSat Results: Technologies and Science Demonstrated on Orbit

Tuesday, 9 January 2018: 8:30 AM
Room 9AB (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
William H. Swartz, APL, Laurel, MD; and S. R. Lorentz, P. M. Huang, A. W. Smith, Y. Yu, S. M. Reilly, N. M. Reilly, E. L. Reynolds, J. Carvo, and D. L. Wu

Elucidating Earth’s energy budget is vital to understanding and predicting climate, particularly the small imbalance between the incident solar irradiance and Earth-leaving fluxes of total and solar-reflected energy. Accurately quantifying the spatial and temporal variation of Earth’s outgoing energy from space is a challenge—one potentially rendered more tractable with the advent of multipoint measurements from small satellite or hosted payload constellations. The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) 3U CubeSat, launched November 11, 2016, is a pathfinder for a constellation to measure the Earth’s energy imbalance. The objective of RAVAN is to establish that compact, broadband radiometers absolutely calibrated to high accuracy can be built and operated in space for low cost. RAVAN demonstrates two key technologies: (1) vertically aligned carbon nanotubes as spectrally flat radiometer absorbers and (2) gallium phase-change cells for on-board calibration and degradation monitoring of RAVAN’s radiometer sensors. We show on-orbit results, including calibrated irradiance measurements at both shortwave, solar-reflected wavelengths and in the thermal infrared. These results are compared with both modeled upwelling fluxes and those measured by independent Earth energy instruments in low-Earth orbit. Further, we show the performance of two gallium phase-change cells that are used to monitor the degradation of RAVAN’s radiometer sensors. In addition to Earth energy budget technology and science, RAVAN also demonstrates partnering with a commercial vendor for the CubeSat bus, payload integration and test, and mission operations. We conclude with a discussion of how a RAVAN-type constellation could enable a breakthrough in the measurement of Earth’s energy budget and lead to superior predictions of future climate.
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