AWE Mission Quick Facts

Launch: November 9, 2023 via NASA’s SpaceX CRS-29 (Commercial Resupply Service) mission to the International Space Station

Operations: Two-year observation from the International Space Station

NASA Science Mission Directorate: Heliophysics Division

PI Institution: Utah State University leads the mission, science investigation, science operations, and data analysis

Mission Operations: Space Dynamics Laboratory provides the flight instrument and mission operations center

The whole Earth is shown in greyscale with white and grey lines of atmospheric gravity waves hovering above it.
A motion graphic depicting atmospheric gravity waves gaining energy and breaking into space.

AWE Science

  • Understand how atmospheric gravity waves (AGWs) near the mesopause (~87 km altitude) vary by season and region
  • Identify the dominant dynamical processes controlling AGWs
  • Estimate how AGWs formed in the troposphere (surface to ~10–15 km) affect the ionosphere-thermosphere-mesosphere (ITM) (50–500 km)
  • Focus on small-scale (horizontal wavelength, ~30–300 km) AGWs entering the ITM system from Earth
Atmospheric gravity waves seen as ripples in the clouds

Atmospheric Gravity Waves

  • Often form in the troposphere (surface to ~10–15 km)
  • Are created during air displacement, such as severe weather or wind rushing over geographic features
  • Carry energy and momentum into the upper atmosphere before breaking
  • Affect upper-atmospheric space weather and GPS signals near the edge of space
  • Can be detected in Earth’s airglow layer using infrared technology
  • Are not the same as gravitational waves (ripples in space-time associated with supernovae and black holes)
Mission team members working on the AMTM instrument in a cleanroom.

AWE Payload

  • Wide-field (90°) infrared imaging radiometer
  • Four identical telescopes
  • Measures the P1(2) and P1(4) emission lines of the hydroxyl (3,1) band, or Earth’s OH layer
  • Measures the infrared background in the OH band
  • Captures one nighttime image every second
  • Weighs 58 kg
Atmospheric Waves Experiment
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The material is based upon work supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under Contract Number 80GSFC18C0007.

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