NASA launched a small, bread loaf-sized satellite into orbit around the Earth in the month of May. The mission of satellite was to measure cloud ice in our planet’s atmosphere (Dubbed IceCube). It was a challenging task that researchers have previously only been able to perform in limited ways. Sensing ice clouds requires measurements at a range of frequency bands but particularly within what is known as sub-millimeter wavelengths, or electromagnetic wavelengths that fall in between those of microwave and infrared waves. Launching a satellite to perform specific measurements could open up what parts of the atmosphere can be studied, and that’s where IceCube comes in.
IceCube was developed in partnership with Virginia Diodes Inc. and was done in a relatively short amount of time on a comparatively low budget. The major objective was to be able in showing this type of project could produce a useful piece of equipment. One of the researchers on the IceCube team, Dong Wu said that it is a different mission model for NASA and the principal goal was to show this small mission could be done. The question was, could we can get useful science and advanced space technology with a low-cost CubeSat developed under an effective government-commercial partnership.” In that regard, the mission appears to be a success, and as a bonus, researchers now have the first map of global atmospheric ice distribution.