Space Station Sensor to Capture 'Striking' Lightning Data (January 2017)
Researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., developed a sophisticated piece of flight hardware called a Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) to detect and locate lightning over the tropical region of the globe. Launched into space in 1997 as part of NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), the sensor undertook a three-year baseline mission, delivering data used to improve weather forecasts. It continues to operate successfully aboard the TRMM satellite today.
The team that created this hardware in the mid-1990s built a spare -- and now that second unit is stepping up to contribute, as well. The sensor is scheduled to launch on a Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) rocket to the International Space Station in January 2017. Once mounted to the station, it will serve a two-year baseline mission as part of a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program (STP)-H5 science and technology development payload. STP-H5 is integrated and flown under the management and direction of the DoD's STP.
NASA selected the LIS spare hardware to fly to the space station in order to take advantage of the orbiting laboratory’s high inclination. This vantage point gives the sensor the ability to "look" farther towards Earth's poles than the original LIS can aboard the TRMM satellite. Once installed, the sensor will monitor global lightning for Earth science studies, provide cross-sensor calibration and validation with other space-borne instruments, and ground-based lightning networks. LIS will also supply real-time lightning data over data-sparse regions, such as oceans, to support operational weather forecasting and warning.
"Only LIS globally detects all in-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning -- what we call total lightning -- during both day and night," said Richard Blakeslee, LIS project scientist at Marshall. "As previously demonstrated by the TRMM mission, better understanding lightning and its connections to weather and related phenomena can provide unique and affordable gap-filling information to a variety of science disciplines including weather, climate, atmospheric chemistry and lightning physics.”
LIS measures the amount, rate and radiant energy of global lightning, providing storm-scale resolution, millisecond timing, and high, uniform-detection efficiency -- and it does this without land-ocean bias.