GIFTS New Millenium Program

December 14, 1999 | Mike Key

UW–Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center is a major player in a revolutionary new NASA program. NASA said that the mission, the third in NASA’s New Millennium Earth Observing series, will test advanced technologies for measuring temperature, water vapor, wind and chemical composition with high vertical resolution from space. The NASA New Millennium program seeks to push forward the frontiers of science and technology.

This new measuring concept is known as a geostationary imaging Fourier transform spectrometer (GIFTS), based in part on technology developed at UW–Madison. SSEC’s Interim Director Hank Revercomb explained, “We’re continuing what Vern Suomi started 35 years ago with the spin-scan camera. We’re combining imaging and sounding measurements into one instrument.” The spectrometer will allow the most important parts of the thermal emission spectrum to be measured at a single time in very high resolution. William L. Smith, Director of Atmospheric Sciences at NASA’s Langley Research Center and former director of UW–Madison’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, said that GIFTS would provide “greatly improved environmental forecasts to reduce the risk of hazardous weather and poor air quality to human safety and health.”

In 1965, Verner Suomi founded SSEC to make instruments that would make it possible to view the earth from space. His spin-scan camera revolutionized meteorology.

The GIFTS will take the technology much further. Current geostationary weather satellites carry several instruments which can measure a few selected spectral bands. GIFTS will observe more than one thousand spectral bands with a single instrument, providing more information and in greater detail than is currently possible in geostationary orbit.

Partners in the mission are:

  • NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia—GIFTS management, under Wallace Harrison. William L. Smith is responsible for science integrity.
  • UW–Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center—The GIFTS effort is led by Hank Revercomb, SSEC’s Interim Director, who will oversee instrument design and calibration and software design. Christopher Velden is a mission scientist. Many SSEC staff are involved in the GIFTS project. The entire GIFTS project includes a broad education and public outreach effort, directed from UW–Madison by Sanjay Limaye, with Utah State University, Norfolk State University, Fond du Lac Tribal Community College, Edgewood College, UW-Whitewater and the NASA/GLOBE program, along with NASA/Langley.
  • Space Dynamics Laboratory, Utah State University provides the electro-optical module.
  • NOAA and SSEC will collaborate to bring the GIFTS capability into future operational (forecasting) missions.
  • Other partners are expected to be: ITT, Fort Wayne, IN; Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory; and Hughes Space corporation.

Of the $105 million budgeted for GIFTS, the grant provides about $10 million to the Space Science and Engineering Center over five years with about $1 million earmarked for education and outreach.

The instrument will be flight tested in 2003, possibly on a U.S. Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.

For more information contact: SSEC’s Public Information Officer or at 608-263-3373.