November 22, 2016 – A new CubeSat, built by Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) in Boulder, Colorado, was one of seven CubeSats aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched November 11 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The RAVAN team has been testing and configuring CubeSat operations since launch, and anticipates initiating science operations soon.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, will demonstrate new technology to measure Earth’s radiation imbalance and better predict future climate change.
RAVAN will demonstrate that accurate and critically needed Earth climate measurements can be made with a small instrument, thanks in part to new carbon nanotube technology that absorbs light extremely efficiently.
The RAVAN team will study Earth’s radiation imbalance (ERI), which is the difference between the amount of energy from the sun that reaches the Earth and that is reflected or radiated back into space. While thought to be less than one percent, the imbalance is known to be essential for understanding and predicting changes in the planet’s climate. RAVAN is funded by NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office, located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“RAVAN is the product of a close-knit collaboration between partners,” said RAVAN Principal Investigator Bill Swartz of APL “and the team is ready to begin testing the new technology on orbit. This pathfinder demonstration mission will show how we can make low-cost yet precise measurements of ERI from space, which would enable a huge leap in our ability to predict climate behavior.”
RAVAN uses a small, accurate radiometer, developed at L-1 Standards and Technology, to measure the strength of Earth’s outgoing radiation across the entire spectrum of energy, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared. That spectrum will be observed by a “forest” of carbon nanotubes, grown at APL, that serve as the radiometer’s light absorber. These nanotubes are such a deep black that they will gather virtually all the light reflected and emitted from Earth.
The launch of this single RAVAN CubeSat represents the first step toward a notional constellation that would provide global coverage of Earth’s total outgoing radiation throughout the day and night.
RAVAN, APL’s first Earth science CubeSat, is part of the Lab’s ongoing development and refinement of small, adaptable and cost-effective platforms for operational use. APL launched its first CubeSats in 2013. Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) in Boulder, Colorado, built RAVAN and operates the spacecraft for APL. The RAVAN team includes partners at BCT; L-1 in New Windsor, Maryland; and NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland.