Project Possum at the Edge of Space

noctilucent cloud nlc31

Noctilucent clouds (credit: Project PoSSUM)

Project PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) seeks nearly invisible clouds at the literal edge of space. These noctilucent clouds may be important indicators of climate change. Yet to get a good look at them requires getting up close, and that requires a spacecraft.

Noctilucent clouds are of interest within the climate science community as sensitive indicators for what goes on in the upper-mid atmosphere. “If we can understand more about this, we can understand more about global changes,” according principle investigator Dr. Jason Reimuller, “how the upper atmosphere is coupled with the lower atmosphere.”

According to the Project’s website, the extremely cold temperatures and very low density of the mesosphere creates an environment where very small changes in the atmosphere can drive large changes in observed noctilucent cloud properties.  So by observing noctilucent clouds, we can learn a lot about the atmosphere as a whole.

Possum observatory


PoSSUM uses imaging and remote sensing techniques from commercial, reusable suborbital space vehicles to address critical questions about the climate, and has developed its own instrumentation. PoSSUM Observatory obtains high-altitude imagery and remote sensing data, and capture mesoscale phenomena in the atmosphere or on the ground. It also includes LiDAR and thermal mapping capabilities and can be readily integrated on-board suborbital spacecraft. The PoSSUM Aeronomy Laboratory contains Mesospheric Aerosol Sampling Spectrometer (MASS), Mesosphere Clear Air Turbulence (MCAT) and wind probe components.

Sounding rockets aren’t good enough. They aren’t in the neighborhood for long enough, and it is difficult to get high quality images as well as collateral atmospheric measurements such as temperature and pressure. So PoSSUM is designing its 2015 campaign experiment around the XCOR Lynx for a delpoyment to either Fairbanks, AK or Kiruna, Sweden


If you are interested in flying an experiment on a PoSSUM flight, they also have a Possum Guest Experiment facility.

Website: Project PoSSUM

NASA Presentation: Planetary Sustainability for Survival and Profit

NRP event

Rose Grymes, Rama Nemani,  Stanley Herwitz,

The NASA Research Park (NRP) held “Planetary Sustainability for Survival and Profit”, a presentation and audience Q & A on the evening of December 3 at Moffett Field as part of its Exploration Lecture Series.

Speakers presented on several sustainability-related start-ups at the NASA Research Park, including Bloom Energy, Bio-Vessel (in stealth mode), and Oyokits. Panalists spoke about other endeavors such as the Space Portal,  NEX, a warehouse and collaboration platform for Earth data, the UAV Collaborative, and the Smart Energy Enterprise Development Zone (SEEDZ).

Dr. Rose Grymes emceed the event and moderated a lively panel discussion. Dr. Daniel Rasky surveyed the growing field of space and sustainability. He mentioned the natural connection between space and sustainability by pointing out that Elon Musk has created both SpaceX and Tesla. Dr. Rama Nemani indicated how NEX makes vital data regarding climate change available. He mentioned how the typical scientist will spend 80% of their time  with data and writing software and how NEX can reduce that time, and by implication that scientists can thus improve their impact.

NRP event

Donald Bray, Daniel Rasky, Rose Grymes

Dr. Stanley Herwitz discussed how unmanned ariel vehicles (UAVs) can be used to gain high resolution environmental data and showed beautiful video of a UAV flying over the Florida Keys. Mr. Donald Bray, discussed how the Smart Energy Enterprise Development Zone (SEEDZ) in Silicon Valley is producing synergies by integrating the various components of energy production and management.


  • Dr. Rose Grymes, Office of the Center Director, Technical Lead, Sustainability, GSA Sustainability Fellow 2012-2013
  • Dr. Daniel Rasky, Director, NASA Ames Space Portal – NASA Planetary Sustainability Initiatives + Partnerships
  • Dr. Rama Nemani, Director, NASA Earth Exchange – NASA Supercomputer-driven Planetary Sustainability Programs
  • Dr. Stanley Herwitz, Director, UAV Collaborative – Investigating + Documenting Global Climate Change using UAVs
  • Mr. Donald Bray, Director, Smart Energy Enterprise Development Zone (SEEDZ) Initiative, Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network – Green Development/Green Jobs


Event webpage: NRP Exploration Lecture: Planetary Sustainability for Survival and Profit

Clearing the Air with inXitu

Mars Science Laboratory rover

Mars Science Laboratory

inXitu develops clean-tech air purifiers and portable material analyzers. The technology used in inXitu’s portable rock and mineral analyzer was chosen to fly on the Mars Science Laboratory rover (upper left). inXitu has been developing a low-power, passively-cooled, grounded-anode miniature x-ray source to be deployed in miniaturized instruments for surface and subsurface exploration of the solar system. inXitu is also developing solutions targeted for identification and analysis in the areas of explosives, pharmaceuticals, forensics, art and archaeological materials.

See full article.

ESA Closed Loop Life Support

new melissa loop


The European Space Agency’s MELIiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) research program “aims to develop the technology required for a future biological life support system for long term manned space missions.” In fact, MELISSA claims to go “further than other recycling systems used on Mir or the International Space Station which purify water and recycle exhaled carbon dioxide”, by attempting to “recycle organic waste for food production.”

See full article.

Flywheels: Clean Energy Storage?



A little known fact is that NASA has a flywheel program. The international Space Station (ISS) is periodically in the Earth’s shadow, so that its solar arrays do not work all of the time. A form of energy storage is required in order to operate the ISS while eclipsed and during peak loads. At one time, NASA had considered using flywheels to store electrical energy on the space station. Like many other NASA programs, the flywheel program has seen better days, but the technology still exists. Much of the research had centered around Glenn Research Center.

See full article.