Madrid, 28 years old (European Press)
PACE completed its journey mid-month from the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to the Astrotec Spacecraft Operations Facility near Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Once in orbit, PACE will monitor the atmosphere and ocean surface from space. It will help scientists learn more about the relationships between phytoplankton and the surrounding environment by measuring how light is reflected in the ocean and through the atmosphere. By determining the distribution of phytoplankton, PACE will help assess the health of the oceans. It will also continue key measurements related to air quality and climate.
The primary technology designed for PACE is the Ocean Color Instrument (OCI). Built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, it will be the most advanced instrument in NASA’s history for observing ocean color. The next-generation spectrophotometer will measure the properties of light across broad ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum: from ultraviolet to shortwave infrared wavelengths. Going forward, OCI will enable continuous light measurements with finer wavelength resolution than any other NASA ambient color sensor, and the cross-path rotating telescope will reduce image separation.
The OIC’s unprecedented spectral coverage will provide the first global measurements aimed at determining the community composition of phytoplankton, the microscopic algae that float in our oceans. This data will greatly improve our ability to understand Earth’s changing marine ecosystems, manage natural resources such as fisheries, and identify harmful algal blooms, NASA reports.
PACE will also include two polarizers for multi-angle imaging, both of which measure how much sunlight is reflected within a geometric plane. When light hits clouds or suspended particles, known as aerosols, it is reflected from this interaction and changed. By measuring these changes in light polarization or color, we can infer the properties of clouds or aerosols. This type of data is crucial for deciphering how sunlight is reflected and absorbed by our planet and how aerosols affect cloud formation.
The PACE polarometers, the Spectrograph for Planetary Exploration Multi-Angle Polarimeter (SPEXone) and the Hyper-Angular Rainbow Range Polarimeter 2 (HARP2), will monitor the visible and near-infrared bandwidths at different angles within the OIC coverage. Their consistent spatial coverages and measurement resolution will result in a comprehensive aerosol and cloud data set. In addition, polarimetric data will improve OCI results by helping to “remove” parts of the atmosphere that obscure ocean color signals.
In collaboration with OCI, SPEXone and HARP2 will continue systematic records of key atmospheric variables needed to improve predictions of air quality, meteorological conditions, and climate.