Lockheed Martin Space Systems IMAGE spacecraft launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base
SUNNYVALE, CA, 27-MAR-00 -- NASA's Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft, built at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, under subcontract to Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) of San Antonio, Texas, was launched Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California. IMAGE, led by Dr. James L. Burch of SwRI, was selected by NASA to be the first Medium-class Explorer Mission. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD manages the IMAGE mission. The IMAGE spacecraft was built, integrated with its payload, and tested at the Space Systems facility in Sunnyvale.
We're enormously pleased to see IMAGE on its way, said Ron Paulson, Space Systems Sunnyvale vice president of remote sensing and space science. The entire IMAGE team here feels very satisfied that three years of intense effort has paid off and that the best possible spacecraft is finally about to begin its mission.
Space Systems Sunnyvale was chosen in 1996 by the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) of San Antonio to build the spacecraft for IMAGE. In addition, the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto was involved with the development of two of the IMAGE scientific instruments, and ATC personnel developed a star tracker used on the spacecraft for attitude determination and pointing.
IMAGE is the first mission dedicated to imaging the magnetosphere as it changes shape. IMAGE will use three-dimensional imaging techniques to study the global response of the Earth's magnetosphere to variations in the magnetic activity of the Sun. The magnetosphere is the region of space controlled by the Earth's magnetic field and populated with plasma - a gas consisting of equal numbers of positively and negatively charged particles - of both solar wind and ionospheric origin. Its behavior is strongly influenced by the solar wind, the supersonic stream of charged particles flowing out from the Sun.
The most familiar manifestation of the magnetosphere's interaction with the solar wind are auroras - the Northern and Southern Lights. These colorful and sometimes impressive displays result from the impact of magnetospheric charged particles with the gases of the Earth's upper atmosphere. Especially spectacular auroras are associated with geomagnetic storms, which are caused by disturbances in the solar wind. In addition to triggering intense auroral activity, geomagnetic storms can affect space systems, power grids and communications. It is thus important to understand such storms and be able to predict them.
IMAGE provides the first opportunity to image magnetospheric regions on a global scale. IMAGE uses three different experimental techniques to carry out its mission: radio sounding, ultraviolet imaging, and neutral atom imaging. A radio sounder will probe the boundaries of the magnetosphere and the plasmasphere (a dense region of cold ionospheric plasma surrounding the Earth in the inner magnetosphere), while ultraviolet imagers study the aurora and the structure of the plasmasphere. Global images of magnetospheric ion populations from a suite of three neutral atom imagers will yield information about magnetospheric plasma sources and about the behavior of the inner magnetosphere under both quiet and magnetic storm conditions. The neutral atom imagers detect neutral atoms created from magnetospheric ions through a process known as charge exchange. IMAGE will be the first space science mission to employ this technique extensively over a wide range of particle energies.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, CA, is a leading supplier of satellites and space systems to military, civil government and commercial communications organizations around the world. These spacecraft and systems have enhanced military and commercial communications; provided new and timely remote-sensing information; and furnished new data for thousands of scientists studying our planet and the universe.