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NASA AIMs for the Clouds


New York, Apr 25, 2007

Today the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the first spacecraft mission of its kind to explore mysterious ice clouds residing at edge of space.

NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft will conduct a two-year mission to study the formation and behavior of polar mesospheric clouds, which form an icy membrane fifty miles above Earth’s surface. Visible from the ground only at night, these clouds normally form in high latitudes during the spring and summer, and have been glimpsed from Earth for more than one hundred years. But these unusual clouds are increasing in number, becoming brighter, and occurring at lower latitudes than ever before.

The 430-pound spacecraft was carried into orbit aboard an air-launched Pegasus XL rocket, which in turn provided launching services for AIM. Two standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are intended to help spacecraft-to-launch vehicle operations to take off. ISO 15863:2003, Space systems -- Spacecraft-to-launch-vehicle interface control document, provides the organizations involved in these operations with a general format for verifying spacecraft and launch vehicle compatibility for a dedicated mission. For its part, ISO 14303:2002, Space systems -- Launch-vehicle-to-spacecraft interfaces, specifies the interface between a launch vehicle and spacecraft in order to reduce the risks of errors resulting from miscommunication.

For an initial period of thirty days, AIM’s subsystems and instruments will be evaluated and compared to their performance during ground testing so as to ensure their satisfactory operation in space. ISO 15864:2004, Space systems--General test methods for space craft, subsystems and units, provides a baseline standard for testing unmanned spacecraft programs at the system, subsystem, and unit levels. The requirements of ISO 15864 may be tailored for each specific space program application. ISO 14950:2004, Space systems -- Unmanned spacecraft operability, outlines guidelines for on-board functions that enable a terrestrial communications satellite system to operate spacecraft in the event of a nominal or predefined contingency situation.

AIM is the ninth small-class mission under NASA's Explorer Program, which provides flight opportunities for scientific investigations from space within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas. Results from the AIM mission will provide the basis for study of long-term variability in the mesospheric climate, and whether changes in the clouds are linked to global climate change.

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