International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE)

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Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: AWE mission

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


News

  • NASA has selected a $42 million mission that will help scientists understand and, ultimately, forecast the vast space weather system around our planet.

Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) mission

  • AWE is a Mission of Opportunity under NASA’s Heliophysics Explorers Program, which conducts focused scientific research and develops instrumentation to fill the scientific gaps between the agency’s larger missions.
  • The AWE mission will cost $42 million and is planned to launch in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).
  • The new experiment will obtain global observations of an important driver of space weather in a dynamic region of Earth’s upper atmosphere that can cause interference with radio and GPS communications.
  • The AWE will focus on colourful bands of light in Earth’s atmosphere, called airglow, to determine what combination of forces drive space weather in the upper atmosphere.

Why new mission?

  • Space weather is important because it can have profound impacts affecting technology and astronauts in space, disrupting radio communications and, at its most severe, overwhelming power grids.
  • Researchers once thought that only the Sun’s constant outflow of ultraviolet light and particles, the solar wind, could affect the region.
  • However, recently they have learned that solar variability is not enough to drive the changes observed, and Earth’s weather also must be having an effect.
  • To help unravel that connection, AWE will investigate how waves in the lower atmosphere, caused by variations in the densities of different packets of air, impact the upper atmosphere.
  • This proposed mission would investigate how giant space weather storms from the Sun, called solar particle storms, are accelerated and released into planetary space.
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