GOLD Mission Launched into Orbit

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The NASA Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission was launched into orbit on January 25, 2018 as a commercially hosted payload on the SES-14 communications satellite. There were anxious moments following lift-off when mission control lost contact with the satellite.

GOLD Ignition image
Ignition of the Ariane 5 rocket carrying STS-14 and the GOLD instrument, 10:20 UT on 25 January 2018. Photograph by GOLD scientist Stan Solomon, NCAR.

Fortunately, it was found an hour later, operating autonomously, in a slightly different orbit than expected. The satellite was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. The orbit will be adjusted using electric propulsion, and gradually raised to geostationary altitude as planned. It will be located over the equator at 47.5 degrees west longitude, near the mouth of the Amazon river. Observations by GOLD are expected to begin in October 2018, just a few weeks later than originally scheduled.

SES-14 communications satellite image
The SES-14 communications satellite, built by Airbus

GOLD is an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph that measures the temperature and composition of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere above 100 km altitude. It will investigate the dynamic interaction of space with the atmosphere, and the drivers of changes in this critical region. Resulting data will improve forecasting models of the space weather events that can impact satellites, communication, and navigation. GOLD was turned on for the first time on January 29, its detector doors were opened, and then it was turned off again to await stationing on orbit.

The GOLD instrument was built at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics by a team led by Principal Investigator Richard Eastes and Deputy Principal Investigator Bill McClintock. Alan Burns of NCAR is the Project Scientist, and several other scientists at NCAR and CU are involved in the project.

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GOLD Science Team image
GOLD scientists pose with the instrument in a laboratory at CU/LASP, 2017