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In Response To COVID-19, Space Dynamics Lab Satellite Operators “Fly” Small Sats From Home

The Space Dynamics Laboratory announced on 15 April 2020 that satellite operators are flying NASA spacecraft from their homes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The emphasis on social distancing and stay-at-home work has become ubiquitous throughout the world and has affected sectors of many industries, including the space industry. In response to disruptions of normal work methods due to the global pandemic, SDL satellite operators have successfully shifted operations of two NASA small satellites away from traditional Mission Operations Centers to alternative flight centers—their living rooms.

“By leveraging government-approved secure network services and working within security and information assurance protocols, SDL has the ability to operate spacecraft effectively and securely from anywhere an internet connection exists,” said Tim Neilsen, program manager in SDL’s Commercial and Civil Space Division. “NASA’s Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter CubeSat and the Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space instrument small satellite, known as HARP and CIRiS respectively, are two science satellites that are now being commanded by SDL satellite operators outside of SDL facilities.”

Measuring approximately 10 centimetres wide, 10 centimetres high, and 30 centimetres long, the HARP satellite was built by SDL to carry the payload built by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The objective of HARP is to validate the in-flight capabilities of a highly accurate and precise wide field of view hyper-angular polarimeter for characterizing aerosol and cloud properties. Additionally, HARP will demonstrate that CubeSat-size technology can provide science-quality multi-angle imaging data, paving the way for lower-cost aerosol-cloud instrument development.

Built by Ball Aerospace, CIRiS is collecting, processing, and calibrating infrared images of Earth. The satellite, about the size of a backpack with a mass of approximately 25 pounds, is testing a small, space-based infrared instrument that collects images to be used for a variety of scientific studies, including studies of cloud properties and mapping of soil moisture for measuring local drought conditions.

“We have worked closely with NASA and the principal investigators for HARP and CIRiS to ensure their mission objectives are being met while our employees are practicing recommended COVID-19 mitigation methods,” said Asal Naseri, SDL’s small satellite technologies branch head. “The health and safety of our employees is a top priority for SDL, and we are actively pursuing opportunities for them to work from home during this extraordinary time while maintaining commitments to our partners.”

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