NASA is launching a mission to Silverton this winter, but agency officials say it has nothing to do with the search for intelligent life in the universe.
It’s actually a research project to determine how to accurately measure water content of snow — from outer space.
They’ll be flying over the Silverton-based Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies’ Senator Peck Basin study area at Red Mountain Pass in February 2017 as part of a 3-year mission to boldly go where no snow researchers have gone before, according to Jeff Derry, director of the CSAS.
The project, called SnowEx, is descrribed as a multi-year airborne snow campaign. Its goal is to collect multi-sensor observations to determine which techniques work best for measuring snow, and to combine these in a design for the development of a snow-sensing satellite.
The team began with “snow-off” fly-overs of bare ground from Sept. 28-Oct. 4. “Snow-on” fly-overs will take place this February.
“Since the SnowEx project wants to push current techniques until they break, focusing on challenges presented by forests and extreme topographical relief like the Senator Peck Basin site is the perfect venue to collect a unique dataset that will enable snow mission trade studies while also enabling scientific inquiry,” Derry said.
He pointed out the site has lots of data on the site, and has a “long history of Lidar airborne campaigns,” referring to lasers used to gauge surface features.
Senator Peck Basin is actually a secondary site for the project. Snow measurements will occur in February on Grand Mesa, along with Red Mountain Pass.
“They’re doing the Grand Mesa because it’s easy,” Derry said. “The landscape is flat and pretty evenly treed.”
But Derry said NASA also wants to fly over the Senator Peck Basin on Red Mountain Pass “because the landscape is so rugged. They want to get a mix of both easy terrain and difficult terrain.”
The Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies can then provide real data from the ground.
“When they fly over we have teams go out and do the ground proofing to see what’s actually there.”
Derry said NASA is “trying to develop the technology to put in a satellite.”
Such a satellite may be a giant leap for snow studies, but Derry’s not worried that it will put CSAS out of business.
“It will have its limitations, I’m sure,” Derry said.