GREENBELT, Md., Feb. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Answering bold
questions about life and climate on Earth and other planets is the goal
behind a new Space Act Agreement signed today between NASA Goddard Space
Flight Center and Northrop Grumman's (NYSE: NOC) Electronic Systems sector
in a ceremony in the Miller Senate Building, Presidential Conference Center
West at the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.
Through the agreement, researchers from the two Maryland-based
organizations will collaborate on the development of advanced civil radar
system architectures that can be leveraged into new space-based remote
sensing instruments with revolutionary performance characteristics. These
systems will help scientists measure with far greater accuracy, precision,
and detail such things as the three-dimensional structure of Mars and other
planets and heavenly bodies, as well as cloud composition and other
characteristics on Earth to better understand climate change.
"We are bringing together two of Maryland's biggest employers for a
project that has major implications for NASA and our understanding of Earth
and the solar system in which we live," said Goddard Director Dr. Edward
To make this technology a reality, Goddard plans to leverage Northrop
Grumman's radar technology -- including space-qualified electronically
scanned arrays, wideband electronics, and lightweight mesh antenna
technology -- and combine it with its own remote sensing expertise, testing
facilities, and insight into applications that would help scientists answer
key space and Earth science questions.
"This is a strategic partnership that blends the best of Goddard's and
Northrop Grumman's advanced sensing capabilities," said Dr. Laurie Leshin,
Goddard's Deputy Director of Science and Technology. "Our goal is to expand
NASA's instrument technologies, while advancing new and innovative
space-based mission concepts capable of making critical science
observations in support of NASA goals."
"Through this partnership, we can further develop and adapt our strong
radar technologies to meet a variety of Earth and planetary science needs,"
said Joseph J. Ensor, vice president and general manager of Northrop
Grumman's Space & ISR Systems Division. "By pursuing joint research and
development, Northrop Grumman and Goddard will also be able to explore new
climate-related opportunities that arise."
Through this collaboration, researchers at Goddard and Northrop Grumman
hope to demonstrate the feasibility of a smaller, lighter, less costly
radar system for science and exploration initiatives.
"The mass, power, and other requirements of current planetary radar
remote sensing instruments make them extremely challenging and costly to
fly to Mars and icy moons such as Europa and Titan," said Dr. James Garvin,
Goddard's planetary science lead on the agreement. "Having the compact,
agile, and scientifically versatile technology that this agreement will
produce can help us achieve entirely new, ultra-high resolution
measurements of the surfaces and shallow interiors of not only Mars but
also of icy satellites, asteroids, Venus, and Mercury, in a cost-effective
Garvin went on to explain how combining forces would enable missions to
measure what is currently immeasurable here on Earth and on other planets
in our solar system. "For example, we think the ice caps on Mars are a
virtual record book of the planet's climatic history. But in order to
really understand what's written there, we need to see into the ice caps at
much higher resolution than is currently possible. The technology we're
working on would help us peel back the layers of this climate data to
better address the habitability of Mars."
Not only would the systems resulting from the partnership revolutionize
the study of other planets, but they would also be a huge leap forward in
helping Earth scientists understand climate change and the carbon cycle on
our home planet.
"The current state of the art for measuring carbon biomass in forests
involves measuring tree-trunk diameters with tape measures," said Dr. Peter
Hildebrand, Goddard's Earth science lead on the collaborative project.
"Since forests are huge, we obviously have a sampling problem. If instead
we could use an advanced radar system to measure this from space, it would
greatly improve our ability to measure the changes in forest carbon biomass
as the climate changes."
Hildebrand said such sensing technology could also enable scientists to
better understand the forces impacting climate change. "A smarter radar may
be able to intelligently scan the atmosphere on the broad scale as well as
concentrate more observations on areas where something important is
happening, such as changes in cloud and precipitation characteristics,"
said Hildebrand. "We hope that this will improve our understanding of the
relationship between radiation, weather, and climate, and thereby allow us
to do a better job of forecasting what will happen in the future."
For example, in the current debate as to whether a rising climate
causes more intense hurricanes, Hildebrand noted, "A better space weather
radar may help explain which weather systems can grow into hurricanes, and
which ones will not, and also to understand how ocean and atmospheric
conditions feed into the genesis of hurricanes. This will improve
forecasting of hurricanes and their track and intensity."
Located in the Washington, DC suburb of Greenbelt, Maryland, NASA
Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of
combined scientists and engineers dedicated to learning and sharing their
knowledge of the Earth, solar system, and universe through observations
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a $32 billion global defense and
technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems,
products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace
and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.