Don Savage Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1547


August 5, 1996

Jim Sahli Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD (Phone: 301/286-0697) RELEASE: 96-155 FAST SPACECRAFT TO PROBE MYSTERIES OF THE AURORA Data collected by "state-of-the-art" instruments on NASA's Fast Auroral Snapshot (FAST) Explorer satellite, scheduled for launch on August 16, will probe the physical processes that produce auroras, while adding significantly to our understanding of the Earth's environment in space. Auroras have been a source of fascination and superstition for centuries. In recent decades, however, the phenomenon has become better understood through scientific research, particularly with the aid of spaceflight instrumentation. "The purpose of the FAST spacecraft is to investigate the physics of acceleration processes in nature. Specifically, FAST will investigate how particles are accelerated in space to create the aurora (or "northern and southern lights")," said Dr. Robert Pfaff, the FAST project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. FAST will be launched from the Western Test Range, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, using a winged Pegasus-XL launch vehicle. The development of the satellite cost a total of approximately $45 million -- $27 million for the spacecraft and $18 million for the instruments. Launch services will add approximately another $15 million to the mission cost. The five scientific instruments aboard FAST will gather high time resolution "snapshots" of the electric fields, magnetic fields, and energetic electron and ion distributions at high altitudes of 1,200 - 2,600 miles and at

high latitudes (greater than 60 degrees) near the Earth's magnetic poles. -more-2The science to be conducted on FAST complements many of the science objectives of other NASA satellites. The recently launched NASA Polar spacecraft takes images of the aurora from altitudes of eight Earth radii above the Earth's poles and shows how the auroral light is distributed within the Earth's high latitude regions. The FAST satellite, on the other hand, will journey to the "heart" of the aurora, the region about 1,250 - 6,250 miles above the Earth at high latitudes, where charged particles are energized and where they are subsequently accelerated down towards the upper atmosphere where the auroral light is emitted. The FAST satellite includes an onboard flight computer which enables it to take high resolution "snapshots" when it encounters interesting science events. In addition, FAST will receive real time commands from scientists on the ground to operate in certain modes and to revise the selection criteria used to identify various unique features of the aurora. The science data from FAST will be directly downlinked to several ground stations operated by NASA. These include the transportable ground station in Poker Flat, AK, and a ground station at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA. In addition, FAST data will be downlinked to another NASA transportable ground station at McMurdo Station, Antarctica and a European ground station in Kiruna, Sweden. The science analysis of the FAST data will be carried out under the leadership of principal investigator Dr. Charles Carlson at the University of California at Berkeley. FAST will carry the following instruments designed to collect the necessary data to carry out the aurora investigations: The Electrostatic Analyzers to measure

energetic electrons and ions, the Electric Field Experiment, and the Instrument Data Processor Unit, provided by the University of California at Berkeley; the Time-of-Flight Energy Angle Mass Spectrograph, from the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, CA, the University of New Hampshire in Durham, the University of California at Berkeley and the Max-Planck Institute in Germany; and the Magnetic Field Instrument, from the University of California at Los Angeles. The Pegasus-XL launch vehicle, built by Orbital Science Corp., Dulles, VA, is a three-stage, solid-propellant booster system carried aloft by an L-1011 jet aircraft and released from the aircraft at an altitude of about 40,000 feet and an airspeed of Mach 0.8. The FAST launch window is from July 15 to Sept. 10, 1996. The daily window is approximately eight minutes in duration and opens at about 5:42 a.m. EST each morning. FAST is the second of five missions in NASA's Small Explorer (SMEX) Project developed by Goddard. The SMEX satellites are highly capable small observatories that are being used to support quick response astrophysics and space physics investigations. - more -3"Innovative engineering and new technology advances have increased the potential scientific return of the SMEX spacecraft to a level comparable to larger carriers. The design has struck a balance between mission risk and cost that has allowed for the development of an extremely capable spacecraft within just three years time. The SMEX program well embodies the faster, better, cheaper concept," said James Watzin, SMEX project manager at Goddard. The spacecraft is a single string design and is intended to operate at least for one year. The expected satellite lifetime is limited due to the anticipated high radiation environment and orbit decay. Information on the Fast mission can be obtained via the Internet World Wide Web at URL:

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