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NASA Giving QuickScat Spares New Mission on Space Station

The ISS-RapidScat instrument shown on the international space station in scale and in a cutout. Credit: NASA artist's concept

PALO ALTO, Calif. — NASA is spending $18.5 million to transform mothballed spare parts from a retired wind-measurement satellite into a new hosted observatory that will be launched to the international space station (ISS) in 2014, an agency official said.

The instrument, called ISS-RapidScat, will be delivered to the space station aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Dragon capsule during one of the company’s NASA-funded commercial cargo runs to the orbital outpost.

ISS-RapidScat will be installed on the station’s Columbus laboratory. An automated instrument, ISS-RapidScat will not require tending by astronaut crews during its two-year mission, NASA said in a Jan. 29 press release.

ISS-RapidScat is a follow-on to the QuickScat scatterometer mission that launched into low Earth orbit in 1999 to monitor the speed and direction of ocean-surface winds for NASA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other customers. The satellite, which was designed for a two-year mission, operated for a decade before an antenna failure knocked it out of service.

ISS-RapidScat will make the same type of measurements as QuickScat, NASA said in its press release. The hosted mission has its roots in a 2011 ISS utilization study and has been in development since August, Howard Eisen, ISS-RapidScat project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told SpaceNews.

“Much of the hardware on ISS-RapidScat is derived from the SeaWinds [microwave radar] payload originally developed [for QuickScat] with Raytheon [Electronic] Systems and Honeywell Satellite Systems Operations,” Eisen said in a Jan. 30 email. “General Electric is supplying a new computer.”

NASA and NOAA had been studying ways to put the spare QuickScat hardware to use for years, Eisen said. The ISS hosted-payload approach won out last year, he said.

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