Professor Jeff Thayer is a member of a key new NASA science program to learn more about our sun’s role in space weather generation. NASA has selected Thayer as one of the three interdisciplinary scientists for GDC (Geospace Dynamics Constellation) mission, which will build and deploy six satellites to offer the first direct worldwide measurements of our planet’s atmospheric interface having the space environment as well as how it responds to solar energy.
“Directed energy from the sun is deposited and satellites orbit in the space-atmosphere interaction region,” Thayer explained. “Space weather caused by solar energy deposition disrupts satellite systems, producing drag and radiofrequency communication problems.” We need to comprehend the processes that cause space weather and offer space operators with forecasting capability.”
Thayer is the University of Colorado Boulder’s SWx TREC (Space Weather Technology, Research, and Education Center)’s faculty director, a Grand Challenge initiative. In the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of the Aerospace Engineering Sciences, he is also Joseph T. Negler Professor. He is a pioneer in atmospheric and ionosphere remote sensing, as well as a specialist in geophysical fluid dynamics as well as electrodynamic processes.
The GDC mission is going to consist of a six-satellite constellation flying in formation. It will investigate the ionosphere-thermosphere area’s fundamental physics, which ranges from 80 to 600 kilometers (50 to 375 miles) above Earth, using an array of sensors that will be on each spacecraft. The mission’s level of precision and resolution will provide an unprecedented insight into how our planet’s space environment reacts to solar energy and how it is internally redistributed on a global scale. The mission’s scientific findings will eventually increase our ability to comprehend and anticipate space weather, which has an impact on our technology and society.
“The higher atmosphere handles solar energy in a variety of ways,” Thayer explained. “It has the ability to convert solar energy into heat, motion, chemical reactions, and other types of energy. This zone protects the globe below from the sun’s tremendous energies by acting as an atmospheric shield. The goal of this mission is to learn more about how solar energy is converted as well as how the upper atmosphere reacts. We know some processes occur, but we need to understand how everything functions together as a whole.”
A six-satellite project is a monumental task. The design and construction of the project are expected to take seven years, followed by 3 years of science operations. Thayer has been called in to help create the mission design, needs, and requirements for the satellites at the ground level.
The project builds on the success of previous NASA missions such as the Parker Solar Probe, which is orbiting the sun, as well as the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS), which is currently orbiting the sun. “We’re following the sun’s energy,” Thayer explained. “Parker is looking at how the sun generates energy. MMS is investigating how the sun’s energy is collected by the Earth’s magnetosphere, which stretches millions of kilometers into space, and GDC will investigate how that energy is dissipated.”
As mission multidisciplinary scientists, NASA has chosen Dr. Rebecca Bishop of the Aerospace Corporation as well as Prof. Yue Deng of University of Texas.
Dr. Eric Sutton, who is a senior research associate at the SWx TREC, as well as three engineers from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Dr. Katelynn Greer, Dr. Greg Lucas, and Dr. Marcin Pilinski, make up Thayer’s team at CU Boulder.