Orbital manufactured the AIM spacecraft under a contract from a university team led by Hampton University (HU) with the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) managing satellite development. The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission is focused on the study of Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMCs) that form about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface in the summer months, primarily in the polar regions.
The AIM spacecraft measures PMCs and the thermal, chemical and dynamic environment in which they form in order to determine the connection between PMCs and the meteorology of the polar mesosphere. This connection is valuable because the increased appearance of noctilucent, or night shining clouds (NLCs), which are a manifestation of PMCs, has been suggested as an indicator of global climate change. Through these measurements the team is addressing questions including:
• Why do noctilucent clouds form and vary?
• Why have they been moving closer to the equator?
• Why have noctilucent clouds been increasing and getting brighter?
• Are noctilucent clouds nature’s harbinger of global change in the upper atmosphere?
Under the contract, Orbital provided the AIM spacecraft bus, instrument integration, satellite environmental test campaign and launch operations. AIM is the fifth satellite built on Orbital’s LeoStar-2 bus.
AIM was launched into orbit by an Orbital Sciences Pegasus®XL rocket in a mission that originated from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Orbit: 600km, circular, sun-synchronous 97.8° inclination
Launch Mass: 199 kg
Solar Arrays: 739 W EOL, fixed arrays
Stabilization: 3 axis, zero momentum, nadir and target pointing
Mission Life: 26 months
Operational, in extended mission operations.
Launched April 25, 2007.
Customer: Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
University of Colorado/LASP
Mission: NASA Small Explorer (SMEX) program
Quick Facts Noctilucent or "night-shining" clouds were first seen in 1885
about two years after the powerful eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia,
which hurled plumes of ash high into Earth's atmosphere.
Crews aboard the International Space Station routinely witness noctilucent
clouds when flying over Australia and the tip of South America.