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NASA’s Specialized High Altitude Airborne Platforms Supporting Eclipse Observations

Presentation #118.05 in the session Solar and Atmospheric Science with Eclipses — Poster Session.

Published onOct 20, 2022
NASA’s Specialized High Altitude Airborne Platforms Supporting Eclipse Observations

During the 2017 eclipse NASA added new observing platforms when it flew two WB-57’s and a Gulfstream in the stratosphere along the center of the totality path. They were collecting data for science, transmitting real-time the raw images via satcom links, for both research and EPO activities. In 2024 two of the NASA WB-57 and the NSF Gulfstream are currently anticipating flying this total eclipse. For the eclipse science community, we will present the benefits of utilizing these platforms with their own instruments on board to observe this and future total eclipses from these highly specialized science platforms in the stratosphere.

  1. No weather obscuration. Weather obstructions only occur in the troposphere, these aircraft fly in the stratosphere.

  2. Able to select the maximum totality duration location and extend it by flying with the eclipse along its path — duration increase of ~1.5X. With the same instrument on both WB-57’s they can be timed to triple the ground totality time. Two aircraft can fly together doubling the number of photons collected or make simultaneous observations in different frequency bands.

  3. Many electromagnetic atmospheric absorption lines degrade ground-based collections but in the stratosphere, they are eliminated or significantly reduced. The atmosphere mass is ~90% below the aircraft, allowing H2O and O2 absorption line data to be collected.

  4. Once an instrument is integrated to the aircraft it can fly again at no additional integration or development cost on future eclipse missions, i.e., the European based eclipses in 2026 and 2027. In fact, there may be some synergy with NASA, NOAA and ESA atmospheric modeling scientists to do collections ferrying to and from Europe, potentially sharing flight costs with NASA Heliophysics.

  5. These eclipse airborne platforms also have satcom links allowing for real time science data or instrument housekeeping information to be transmitted to the PI’s and/or used in EPO activities.

The eclipse payload for WB-57 is currently one instrument in the nose, if as expected two WB-57’s will be flying in 2024’s total eclipse, there is quite a bit of capacity for additional PI participation with instruments increasing the science yield for the same flight cost. Only the new instrument integration cost will be required for 2024. Any additional instruments on the aircraft will position the associated PI’s to potentially participate in the European region total eclipse events during 2026 & 2027 and the 2028 eclipse in Australia (if NASA funds these deployed missions).

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