AER 101: Suborbital Space Environment
AER 101 provides an understanding of the general properties and characteristics of the geospace environment and the underlying physical mechanisms. The student will understand the fundamentals of aeronomy, study of the atomospheric environment of the mesosphere and lower thermosphere (MLT) region of the atmosphere. Special emphasis is given to the to environmental hazards most relevant to the operations of manned spacecraft, including particles and radiation, impact phenomena, spacecraft charging, aerodynamic drag, and oxygen corrosion of surfaces.
The course provides an overview of the atmospheric and space environment experienced by suborbital spacecraft. It builds an understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere from the troposphere over the stratosphere and mesosphere to the thermosphere and the near-Earth space environment. The course will introduce the relevant aspects of each environment with a focus on dynamics, chemistry, radiation environment and energetic particle environment. It will outline commonalities as well as differences between these environments and discuss effects on spacecraft where applicable. The course will also introduce measurement techniques for key quantities in the various environments. The course will close with an outlook on space weather and an overview of the atmospheric environment of Mars. While the course is part of the aeronomy concentration in IIAS, concepts introduced in the course will also be applicable to space flight operations and flight test engineering concentrations.
The course will provide the student with fundamental knowledge about the Earth’s atmosphere from the troposphere to the near-Earth space environment. The student with be able to apply basic concepts that describe these environments. The course will introduce the student to simple models of Earth’s atmosphere and allow him or her to apply them to questions concerning the atmospheric environment. It will introduce the student to relevant measurement techniques of atmospheric environments and outline how suborbital measurements contribute to the characterization of these environments. Students will be able to apply this knowledge of environmental effects on spacecraft and measurement design.
The course is largely based on material found in the following textbooks:
- Frederick, J. F., Principles of Atmospheric Science, Jones and Bartlett, 2008.
- Moldwin, M., An Introduction to Space Weather, Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Other literature relevant to the course includes:
- Sagan C., The Demon-haunted World – Science as a Candle in the Dark, Random house, 1996.
- Catling, D. C. and Kasting, J. F., Atmospheric Evolution on Inhabited and Lifeless Worlds, Cambridge, 2017.
- Tascione, T. F., Introduction to the space environment (2nd), Krieger, 2010.
- Fortescue, P., Swinerd, G., Stark, J., Spacecraft Systems Engineering (4th), Wiley, 2011.
- Haberle, R. M., et al., The Atmosphere and Climate of Mars, Cambridge, 2017.
Lectures and Assignments
This is a 3-credit course that consists of ten webinars in two-hour blocks (1.5 hours of lectures plus time for discussion of assignments) and six assignments. Two assignments will consist of self-study tasks to be summarized in write-ups/presentations, four assignments will based on questions and calculations. Students will receive either a Pass or Fail grade.
The course will be run via GoToMeeting. The first webinar will be held on Friday, February 5, 2021 at 4:00-6:00 pm PST/PDT (7:00-9:00 pm EST/EDT). Follow-on webinars will tentatively also be held on Fridays at this time although there is some flexibility in case another day/time is preferred by the participants.
Introduction to the Scientific Method
Introduction to the Earth’s Atmosphere
Concept of scale height
Hydrostatic equation and barometric formula
Radiative Properties of the Atmosphere – Climate
Black body radiation
Interactions of light with matter
Atmospheric energy balance and greenhouse effect
Atmospheric lapse rate
Atmospheric stability and clouds
Forces driving wind
Impact of weather on spacecraft operations
Synoptic weather systems and fronts
Numerical weather prediction
Concept of potential temperature and gravity waves
Concept of potential vorticity and planetary waves
Stratospheric ozone chemistry and polar stratospheric clouds
Impact of air traffic on the stratosphere
Mesospheric composition and chemistry
Mesospheric temperatures and energy balance
Mesospheric dynamics, gravity waves and tides
Polar mesospheric clouds and polar mesospheric summer echoes
Upper Atmosphere: Thermosphere
Thermospheric energy input
Thermospheric composition and chemistry
Environmental effects on spacecraft
Upper Atmosphere: Ionosphere
Impact on radio transmissions
Optical effects in the upper atmosphere
Upper Atmosphere: Exosphere and Near-Earth Space Environment
Movement of charged particles
Earth’s magnetic field
Magnetosphere and Van Allen radiation belts
Solar energetic particles and cosmic rays – space weather
Exobase and atmospheric escape
Environmental effects on spacecraft
Comparative Planetology: Introduction to Mars’ Atmosphere
Mars’ atmospheric structure and composition
Seasonal and diurnal temperature cycles
Dust and condensates and their radiative effects
Entry, descent and landing of spacecraft on Mars