NASA’s PREFIRE Mission to Study Polar Heat Radiation and Enhance Climate Models

NASA’s PREFIRE Mission to Study Polar Heat Radiation and Enhance Climate Models

NASA’s PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment) polar mission aims to enhance understanding of the Earth’s polar regions and their role in radiating heat into space.

Launch Details

  • First Launch: May 22 from New Zealand.
  • Second Launch: Two weeks after the first launch.
  • Launch Vehicle: Electron launch vehicle.
  • Satellites: Two CubeSats, each about the size of a shoebox.

Satellite Technology

  • Instrumentation: Thermal infrared spectrometer and thermocouple devices, similar to household thermostats.
  • Weight: Each satellite weighs less than 6 pounds (3 kilograms).
  • Orbits: Asynchronous near-polar orbits with overlapping paths to maximize coverage near the poles.

Mission Objectives

  1. Heat Loss Spectrum: Reveal the full spectrum of heat loss from Earth’s polar regions.
  2. Climate Model Accuracy: Improve climate models by providing comprehensive data on polar heat radiation.
  3. Energy Transfer Understanding: Study how heat energy moves from the tropics to the poles and then radiates into space.
  4. Far-Infrared Radiation: Systematically measure the 60% of heat energy that escapes in far-infrared wavelengths, previously unmeasured.

Key Goals

  • Arctic Warming: Understand why the Arctic has warmed more than 2½ times faster than the rest of the planet since the 1970s.
  • Far-Infrared Emission: Determine how efficiently snow, sea ice, and clouds emit far-infrared radiation.
  • Future Predictions: Predict changes in heat exchange between Earth and space and their impact on ice sheet melting, atmospheric temperatures, and global weather.
  • Cost-Effective Research: Use a cost-effective platform to address critical climate change questions.

Significance of Polar Regions

  • Global Climate Impact: Changes in polar regions affect global weather patterns, including extreme storms, flooding, and coastal erosion.
  • Energy Balance: The balance between incoming solar energy and outgoing heat energy shapes Earth’s climate.

Principal Investigator’s Insight

Tristan L’Ecuyer, the principal investigator of the PREFIRE mission, emphasizes that changes in the polar regions fundamentally influence weather worldwide.

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs):

  1. What is the primary aim of NASA’s PREFIRE mission?
    A. To explore the possibility of life on Mars
    B. To study the heat radiation from Earth’s polar regions
    C. To launch a new weather satellite system
    D. To observe the Sun’s radiation patterns
    Answer: B. To study the heat radiation from Earth’s polar regions
  2. When is the first of NASA’s tiny twin satellites for the PREFIRE mission set to be launched?
    A. May 1
    B. May 15
    C. May 22
    D. June 1
    Answer: C. May 22
  3. What type of launch vehicle will be used to deploy the CubeSats for the PREFIRE mission?
    A. Falcon 9
    B. Electron
    C. Atlas V
    D. Delta IV
    Answer: B. Electron
  4. What instrument will the CubeSats carry to measure radiant energy?
    A. Barometer
    B. Hygrometer
    C. Thermocouple
    D. Anemometer
    Answer: C. Thermocouple
  5. Which wavelength of heat energy, previously unmeasured, will the PREFIRE mission focus on?
    A. Ultraviolet
    B. Visible light
    C. Far-infrared
    D. Microwave
    Answer: C. Far-infrared
  6. What does the PREFIRE mission aim to better predict by studying heat exchange between Earth and space?
    A. Solar flares
    B. Ice sheet melting
    C. Earthquakes
    D. Volcanic eruptions
    Answer: B. Ice sheet melting