07:08 AM

USRA to Participate in NSF/NASA Mission to Study Link Between Lightning and Gamma Ray Flashes

The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is proud to announce its participation in the upcoming National Science Foundation (NSF)/NASA 'Firefly' Cubesat mission, with USRA scientist Dr. Joanne E. Hill serving as Co-Investigator on the mission.

Firefly is a nano satellite mission funded and managed by NSF and developed as a collaborative effort by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USRA, Siena College, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and the Hawk Institute for Space Sciences. Firefly will explore the relationship between lightning and massive energy releases, called Terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes (TGFs), that occur in the upper regions of Earth's atmosphere. Lightning is thought to be the mechanism that gives rise to these bursts of radiation which are channeled upwards and can only be detected from space. While the Earth's atmosphere shields us from the effects of this radiation the mechanisms at work can have major impacts on the upper atmosphere and on Earth's space environment. Firefly will explore which types of lightning are associated with TGFs and, by allowing investigation of the occurrence rate of weaker TGFs, will provide information on the effect that the millions of lightning flashes that occur worldwide each day have on the Earth's upper atmosphere and near-Earth space environment.

The NSF CubeSat program represents a new 'low cost access to space' system for performing high-quality, targeted science on a low budget. As a CubeSat, Firefly will accomplish this focused science mission in a much smaller package than a typical satellite. About the size of a football (4' by 4' by 12'), Firefly will be highly cost-effective, with the development, launch, and 3-year on-orbit operations cost of less than $1M. The mission will fly as a secondary payload inside a Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD) provided by California Polytechnic State University with a probable launch date in 2010 or 2011.

'USRA is very proud to be a part of this innovative and scientifically important mission,' said USRA CEO and President Dr. Frederick A. Tarantino. 'This type of mission stands as an excellent example of how to pursue significant science goals in an efficient manner while providing talented scientists like Dr. Hill with important research opportunities. Missions like this one are vitally important as models for future endeavors.'

Dr. Joanne Hill, Co-Investigator on the Firefly mission and lead scientist on the prime Firefly instrument, the Gamma-Ray Detector, is a USRA research scientist with the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology (CRESST) working on the design of new X-ray polarimeters to study persistent celestial sources and bright explosions from the early universe.

The Universities Space Research Association, established in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences, is a private, nonprofit consortium of 102 universities offering advanced degrees in space- and aeronautics-related disciplines. USRA's mission is to conduct leading-edge research, develop innovative technologies, promote education and policy across the breadth of space science, and operate premier science and technology facilities by involving universities, private industry and government.