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Satellite Communications Technology

CubeSat to test instrument for crystal clear data collection

(18 April 2018 - NASA Goddard) When the validation mission for a satellite the size of a cereal box launches in May, it will test a small component in space that could have big benefits for future NASA satellite missions.

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Radio frequency interference (RFI) is very common. Familiar sources that generate RFI include cell phones, radio and television transmissions, satellite broadcasts and other sources. You probably recognize it as that annoying static when you can’t seem to get your favorite radio station to come in clearly because another station is nearby on the dial.

The same interference that causes radio and television static also affects the quality of data that instruments like microwave radiometers collect. As the number of RFI-causing devices increases globally, NASA’s satellite instruments – specifically, microwave radiometers that gather data on soil moisture, meteorology, and climate, and more – will be more challenged in collecting high-quality data.

RFI is already a problem for space-based radiometers. Currently, satellite radiometer measurements are transmitted to the ground where they are then processed to remove RFI-corrupted data. This is a complicated process and requires far more data to be transmitted to the ground than should be needed.

That’s where CubeSat Radiometer Radio frequency interference Technology (CubeRRT) comes in. The small satellite will be carrying a new technology whose development was led by Joel Johnson of The Ohio State University. This technology can be added to radiometers to help them both detect and filter any RFI the satellite encounters in real-time from space. This will reduce the amount of data that needs to be transmitted back to Earth, thereby increasing the quality of important weather and climate measurements.

Once the CubeRRT mission has met all of its validation goals, the proven technology can be included in NASA’s future radiometry missions to ensure they can continue to collect high-quality Earth-observing data – data that will help researchers answer scientific questions about our planet and better understand our home.