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NASA to Showcase Earth Science Data at COP28
This illustration shows the international Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite in orbit over Earth. SWOT’s main instrument, KaRIn, helps survey the water on more than 90% of Earth’s surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. NASA/JPL-Caltech With 26 Earth-observing satellite missions, as well as instruments flying on planes and the space station, NASA has a global vantage point for studying our planet’s oceans, land, ice, and atmosphere and deciphering how changes in one drive change in others.
The agency will share that knowledge and data at the 28th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP28), which brings international parties together to accelerate action toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP28 will be held at the Expo City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from Thursday, Nov. 30 to Tuesday, Dec. 12.
All U.S. events at COP28 are open to the local press and will be live-streamed on the U.S. Center at COP28 website and the U.S. Center YouTube channel.
NASA takes a full-picture approach to understanding all areas of our home planet using our vast satellite fleet and the data collected from their observations. The agency’s data is open-source and available for the public and scientists to study. NASA is showcasing the data at COP28 to share the different ways it can be used globally. The agency’s complete collection of Earth data can be found here.
The scientific research and understanding developed from NASA’s Earth observations are made into predictive models. Those models can be used to develop applications and actionable science to inform individuals including civic leaders and planners, resource managers, emergency managers, and communities looking to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
These satellites and models are augmented by the observations made from the International Space Station. The inclined, low Earth orbit from the station provides variable views and lighting over more than 90 percent of the inhabited surface of the Earth, a useful complement to sensor systems on satellites in higher-altitude polar orbits.
Closer to the surface, NASA’s aviation research is focused on advancing technologies for more efficient airplane flight, including hybrid-electric propulsion, advanced materials, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Technological advances in these areas have the potential to reduce human impacts on climate and air quality.
At the U.S. Center at COP28, in-person visitors can see the NASA Hyperwall where NASA scientists will provide live presentations showing how the agency’s work supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s agenda to encourage a governmentwide approach to climate change. During the hyperwall talks, NASA leaders, scientists and interagency partners will discuss the agency’s end-to-end research about our planet. This includes designing new instruments, satellites, and systems to collect and freely distribute the most complete and precise data possible about Earth’s land, ocean, and atmospheric system. A full schedule of NASA’s hyperwall talks is available.
Last Updated Nov 27, 2023 Editor Contact Related Terms
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Bethany Theiling: Researching Oceans on Earth and Beyond
Name: Bethany Theiling
Formal Job Classification: Planetary research scientist
Organization: Planetary Environment Laboratory, Science Directorate (Code 699)
Bethany Theiling is a planetary research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.NASA/Rebecca Roth What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?
I am an ocean worlds geochemist, which combines chemistry and geology. I study oceans across the solar system including those on Earth.
What is your educational background?
I have a B.A. in anthropology and linguistics from Florida State University, a Master of Science in geology from the University of Georgia, and a Ph.D. in Earth and planetary sciences from the University of New Mexico.
Where did you learn the techniques that make you successful?
I ran the stable isotope lab at Purdue University. I was responsible for maintaining the facility and mentoring the students. I had to be very flexible and have a very deep understanding of all the equipment and everyone’s projects.
I then did a postdoc at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. That was my introduction to planetary science. I fell in love with Europa and icy ocean worlds.
What drew you to being a geology professor at the University of Tulsa?
I always wanted to be a professor. I love everything about it; that you can teach, do research and mentor students. I thought that being a professor gave you total freedom over anything you wanted to explore. I loved it, but I had an abundance of research ideas and did not have the time and resources to pursue them.
How did you come to Goddard? What was your impression?
I started working at Goddard in August 2019 as a planetary research scientist.
I did not know that a place like Goddard existed – a place that is truly supportive of the people who work there. The employees and management have an incredible positivity. Within the planetary science guideposts, I have the freedom to pursue almost any line of research I am able to get funded.
What is your favorite part about laboratory work? Field work?
In my laboratory work, I get to create other worlds in the lab.
Just over a year ago, I completed fieldwork exploring lava caves on volcanos in Hawaii. We were trying to evaluate the atmosphere inside the lava cave to create a method for astronauts to determine environmental conditions in caves on Mars or the Moon. We also used isotopes in the air to identify life, which hopefully can also be used in a future mission.
What is the most exciting research you are doing?
I am very excited about my work developing an autonomous science agent. My team recognizes that for these planetary ocean worlds, it will be very challenging to explore and return data. We are hoping to develop artificial intelligence (AI) that can act as a scientist aboard a spacecraft. Many of the current autonomous functions of a spacecraft are robotic.
We are trying to develop what we are terming “science autonomy.” We want multiple instruments to be able to collect data on board, that the science agent can analyze and make decisions about, including returning this information to Earth. This includes prioritizing, transmitting, and deciding where and when to take the next samples.
The advantage of an AI agent is that we can avoid the sometimes 12-plus-hour delay in communicating with the spacecraft. We are hoping to do “opportunistic science,” meaning respond to real-time events.
We have a series of capability demonstrations, but an AI science agent is a few years away. We can already do simple tasks, but cannot yet do opportunistic science.
Ultimately no person can be on these spacecraft. We are trying to create an AI science agent to find “eureka moments” in real time on its own. We are trying to create AI independence through multiple observations.
What advice do you give the people you mentor?
Although I customize my advice, I am often asked what characteristics make someone successful and able to get through tough times. I always say: creativity and tenacity. I constantly come up with ideas, some better than others, and I explore them. I think about problems in creative ways. I stick with whatever I am thinking about until I figure it out, but sometimes you need to know when enough is enough. Creativity comes from myself, but also from listening to the people on my team.
These traits also describe Goddard’s culture, which is another reason why I love Goddard so much.
What do you do for fun?
So many things! Here’s just a few. I paint abstract art and impressionism in acrylics and watercolors. In the past, I had a costuming company for belly dancers and regular costumes. I also trained in opera and am getting back into it. I also love gardening and hiking.
Who inspires you?
My astrophysicist husband, who is a professor of physics and astronomy, is the most wonderful person. He has supported every wild idea I have ever had and helps me edit them. I can be up in the clouds and he brings me back down to earth, which I sometimes need. He has inspired most of my ideas in some way. He’s my best friend, and we have been together for over two decades.
My vocal coach is incredibly supportive and wants to cultivate each of his students to find their own unique voice and not emulate someone else’s voice. That “voice” – perspective – is something I nurture in my hobbies and career.
What is your “three-word memoir”?
Opportunity is everywhere.
This applies to me personally and also one I cultivate in our AI science agent.
NASA Conversations With Goddard is a collection of Q&A profiles highlighting the breadth and depth of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s talented and diverse workforce. The Conversations have been published twice a month on average since May 2011. Read past editions on Goddard’s “Our People” webpage.
By Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Last Updated Nov 21, 2023 Editor Jamie Adkins Contact Rob Garnerrob.firstname.lastname@example.org Location Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
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7 Min Read Deformable Mirrors in Space: Key Technology toDirectly Image Earth Twins
Deformable Mirror Technology development
Deformable mirrors enable direct imaging of exoplanets by correcting imperfections or shape changes in a space telescope down to subatomic scales.
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Finding and studying Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars is critical to understand whether we are alone in the universe. To study such planets and assess if they can sustain life, it is necessary to directly image them. However, these planets are difficult to observe, since light from the host star hides them with its glare. A coronagraph instrument can be used to remove the glare light from the host star, enabling reflected light from the planet to be collected. A deformable mirror is an essential component of a coronagraph, as it can correct the tiniest of imperfections in the telescope and remove any remaining starlight contamination.
Detecting an Earth-like planet poses significant challenges as the planet is approximately 10 billion times fainter than its parent star. The main challenge is to block nearly all of the star’s light so that the faint light reflected from the planet can be collected. A coronagraph can block the starlight, however, any instability in the telescope’s optics—such as misalignment between mirrors or a change in the mirror’s shape—can result in starlight leakage, causing glare that hides the planet. Therefore, detecting an Earth-like planet using a coronagraph requires precise control of both the telescope and the instrument’s optical quality, or wavefront, to an extraordinary level of 10s of picometers (pm), which is approximately on the order of the size of a hydrogen atom.
Deformable mirrors will enable future space coronagraphs to achieve this level of control. These devices will be demonstrated in space on a coronagraph technology demonstration instrument on NASA’s Roman Space Telescope, which will launch by May 2027. This technology will also be critical to enable a future flagship mission after Roman recommended by the 2020 Decadal Survey in Astronomy and Astrophysics, provisionally called the “Habitable Worlds Observatory” (HWO).
What is a deformable mirror and how do they work?
Deformable Mirrors (DM) are devices that can adjust the optical path of incoming light by changing the shape of a reflective mirror using precisely controlled piston-like actuators. By adjusting the shape of the mirror, it is possible to correct the wavefront that is perturbated by optical aberrations upstream and downstream of the DM. These aberrations can be caused by external perturbations, like atmospheric turbulence, or by optical misalignments or defects internal to the telescope.
DM technology originated to enable adaptive optics (AO) in ground-based telescopes, where the primary goal is to correct the aberrations caused by atmospheric turbulence. The main characteristics of a DM are: 1) the number of actuators, which is proportional to the correctable field of view; 2) the actuators’ maximum stroke – i.e., how far they can move; 3) the DM speed, or time required to modify the DM surface; 4) the surface height resolution that defines the smallest wavefront control step, and (5) the stability of the DM surface.
Ground-based deformable mirrors have set the state-of-the-art in performance, but to lay the groundwork to eventually achieve ambitious goals like the Habitable Worlds Observatory, further development of DMs for use in space is underway.
For a space telescope, DMs do not need to correct for the atmosphere, but instead must correct the very small optical perturbations that slowly occur as the space telescope and instrument heat up and cool down in orbit. Contrast goals (the brightness difference between the planet and the star) for DMs in space are on the order of 10-10 which is 1000 times deeper than the contrast goals of ground-based counterparts. For space applications total stroke requirements are usually less than a micrometer; however, DM surface height resolution of ~10 pm and DM surface stability of ~10 pm/hour are the key and driving requirements.
Another key aspect is the increased number of actuators needed for both space- and ground-based applications. Each actuator requires a high voltage connection (on the order of 100V) and fabricating a large number of connections creates an additional challenge.
Deformable Mirror State-of-the-Art
Two main DM actuator technologies are currently being considered for space missions. The first is electrostrictive technology, in which an actuator is mechanically connected to the DM’s reflective surface. When a voltage is applied to the actuator, it contracts and modifies the mirror surface. The second technology is the electrostatically-forced Micro Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) DM. In this case, the mirror surface is deformed by an electrostatic force between an electrode and the mirror.
Several NASA-sponsored contractor teams are working on advancing the DM performance required to meet the requirements of future NASA missions, which are much more stringent than most commercial applications, and thus, have a limited market application. Some examples of those efforts include improving the mirror’s surface quality or developing more advanced DM electronics.
MEMS DMs manufactured by Boston Micromachines Corporation (BMC) have been tested in vacuum conditions and have undergone launch vibration testing. The largest space-qualified BMC device is the 2k DM (shown in Fig. 2), which has 50 actuators across its diameter (2040 actuators in total). Each actuator is only 400 microns across. The largest MEMS DM produced by BMC is the 4k DM, which has 64 actuators across its diameter (4096 actuators in total) and is used in the coronagraph instrument for the Gemini ground-based observatory. However, the 4k DM has not been qualified for space flight.
Fig. 2: The Boston Micromachines Corporation 2k DM that has 2040 actuators with 400 um pitch. Credit: Dr. Eduardo Bendek Electrostrictive DMs manufactured by AOA Xinetics (AOX) have also been validated in vacuum and qualified for space flight. The AOX 2k DM has a 48 x 48 actuator grid (2304 actuators) with a 1 mm pitch. Two of these AOX 2k DMs will be used in the Roman Space Telescope Coronagraph (Fig. 3) to demonstrate the DM technology for high-contrast imaging in space. AOX has also manufactured larger devices, including a 64 x 64 actuator unit tested at JPL.
Fig. 3: The Roman Space Telescope Coronagraph during assembly of the static optics at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Credit: NASA Preparing the technology for the Habitable Worlds Observatory
Deformable Mirror technology has advanced rapidly, and a version of this technology will be demonstrated in space on the Roman Space Telescope. However, it is anticipated that for wavefront control for missions like the HWO, even larger DMs with up to ~10,000 actuators would be required, such as 96 x 96 arrays. Providing a high-voltage connection to each of the actuators is a challenge that will require a new design.
The HWO would also involve unprecedented wavefront control requirements, such as a resolution step size down to single-digit picometers, and a stability of ~10 pm/hr. These requirements will not only drive the DM design, but also the electronics that control the DMs, since the resolution and stability are largely defined by the command signals sent by the controller, which require the implementation of filters to remove any noise the electronics could introduce.
NASA’s Astrophysics Division investments in DM technologies have advanced DMs for space flight onboard the Roman Space Telescope Coronagraph, and the Division is preparing a Technology Roadmap to further advance the DM performance to enable the HWO.
Author: Eduardo Bendek, Ph.D. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.
The research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004).
Dr. Eduardo Bendek (JPL) and Dr. Tyler Groff (GSFC), Co-chairs of DM Technology Roadmap working group; Paul Bierden (BMC); Kevin King (AOX).
Astrophysics Division Strategic Astrophysics Technology (SAT) Program, and the NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program
Last Updated Nov 20, 2023 Related Terms
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By European Space Agency
ESA has reached a significant milestone in its commitment towards a deeper understanding of Earth's dynamic processes and addressing pressing environmental challenges with the selection of two new candidates – Cairt and Wivern – to progress to the next development phase as part of the process of realising the Agency’s eleventh Earth Explorer satellite mission.
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