University of Colorado at Boulder News Release
2007 May 25
NASA has awarded the University of Colorado at Boulder $1.2 million to design and build a rocket payload to probe a nearby interstellar cloud with new technology that may help scientists better understand the mass and evolution of distant galaxies.
The payload, an ultraviolet spectrometer to be built by faculty and students at CU-Boulder's Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, is slated for launch in 2009 from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The instrument package will investigate the ratio of molecular hydrogen -- known to condense into dark, star-forming clouds in interstellar space -- to carbon monoxide, a closely associated compound, said Professor James Green, principal investigator on the effort.
While the sounding rocket experiment will provide only about five minutes of data from a nearby star-forming cloud in the Milky Way, researchers are hopeful it will prove the effectiveness of the new spectrograph's ability to break down UV light more precisely than with previous technology, said Green. The analysis of such light provides information on distant space objects, including their temperatures, densities and chemical compositions, he said.
CU-Boulder was one of four universities selected by NASA to conduct suborbital scientific research in a step toward reinvigorating the space agency's sounding rocket program. "CASA has a long history of sounding rocket research, and we are excited that NASA is bringing this rocket program back to life," said Green, a professor in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department.
The project will involve a number of graduate and undergraduate students in the design and construction of the payload and subsequent scientific analysis of the data, said Green. The payload will be built at the CASA Astrophysics Research Laboratory in the CU Research Park.
Green also is the principal investigator on the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, a $70 million instrument designed and built by CU-Boulder with Ball Aerospace Systems Group of Boulder. The spectrograph is slated to be inserted on the Hubble Space Telescope in September 2008 and will gather UV light from distant stars, galaxies and quasars to detail the conditions of the early universe.
The new sounding rocket technology to be tested by CASA has the potential to provide three times the resolution of UV light currently available from the most sophisticated orbiting telescopes, said CASA Professor Michael Shull. "The five minutes of fame on this sounding rocket launch could be a step to a much bigger ultraviolet and optical observatory along the lines of a 'Son of Hubble Telescope' 15 or 20 years down the road," said Shull, chair of the board of directors for the national Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.
Green said CASA has been involved in about 15 sounding rocket projects since the 1980s and has launched several previous sounding rocket experiments from the White Sands Missile Range.
The other three sounding rocket projects selected by NASA this week include far UV observations of magnetic fields in stellar "envelopes," by the University of Wisconsin-Madison; multicamera investigations of sub-storm auroras by Dartmouth College; and the testing of a new photo-electron focusing system by the University of California, Los Angeles.
"NASA's sounding rocket program is one of the most cost-effective ways to train future orbital science mission team members and principal investigators, giving them hands-on space flight experience," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. "I hope this effort will be a catalyst for more suborbital work conducted for space science and Earth science research."
The CU-Boulder rocket is expected to reach a height of about 200 miles before drifting back to Earth by parachute for recovery at White Sands. NASA's sounding rocket program also launches from Wallops Island, Va., and the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska.
This story was originally titled "CU-Boulder Selected For Sounding Rocket Launch To Study Galactic Gas".
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