Two-for-One Launch: Ball Aerospace Instruments Headed for the International Space Station
By Andria Kelly
Two Ball Aerospace payloads launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on February 19, 2017. Ball designed and built the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III (SAGE III), which will monitor Earth’s ozone from the International Space Station (ISS), and the Vision Navigation Sensor (VNS) for Raven, a technology demonstration that will test autonomous rendezvous capability for future uses on the ISS. This two-for-one launch is a unique opportunity for Ball to play critical roles in the ISS’s scientific and environmental observations and technical operations.
“Ball Aerospace has a deep legacy in creating instruments and spacecraft for NASA, from helping to measure ozone levels to exploring the farthest reaches of our solar system and beyond,” said Jim Oschmann, Ball Aerospace’s vice president and general manager, civil space business unit. “We are proud to support the ongoing operations of the International Space Station and to further scientific understanding of how the ozone layer affects life on earth.”
SAGE III on ISS
SAGE III on ISS is a key part of NASA’s mission to provide crucial, long-term measurements that will help determine the health of the ozone layer. The heart of the SAGE III on ISS instrument is the Ball-built spectrometer, which allows scientists to measure the quantity of atmospheric gases such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, water vapor and aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere. Ball has built three SAGE III instruments, dating back to November 1989, when Ball was first selected by NASA Langley Research Center as the instrument’s prime contractor.
Once docked with the ISS, the SAGE III payload will collect measurements through each sunrise and sunset from its orbit approximately 450 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The SAGE III on ISS mission is different from earlier SAGE missions in that it will be installed on the manned space station alongside experiments from all over the world. It will collect data from each sunrise and sunset of an ISS orbit - every 90 minutes, or roughly 32 measurements a day. Ultimately, this technology will help determine the degree to which the ‘hole’ in the ozone layer has healed in the last few decades. Ball’s efforts with the SAGE III on ISS are vital to the understanding of our atmosphere’s composition and continued data collection of heritage SAGE instruments.
“This data on the ozone layer and other atmospheric gasses is very important to understand for human life now and into the future,” said Bill Good, SAGE III on ISS program manager. “With this information, we can improve our models of the atmosphere to inform policymakers and help determine the precautions people should be taking in their everyday lives.”
The second instrument launched is NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Raven. This payload is a silver-framed box mounted on a gimbal on the ISS. Raven is a technology demonstration mission that aims to advance the state-of-the art in rendezvous, proximity operations and docking. Raven includes visible cameras, an infrared camera and a flash LIDAR, called the Vision Navigation Sensor (VNS). In building and designing the VNS, Ball has provided Raven with its “eyes,” which will watch vehicles approach and depart the ISS.
“This technology has come a longways in the last few years, and is vital to advancing spacecraft proximity operation systems,” said Jim Masciarelli, Raven program manager. “We originally developed VNS under another contract and it has since evolved with Goddard to improve the sensor.”