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Space Dynamics Lab Sensor Launched

Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013

rocket launch carrying SDL designed and built sensors

(photo courtesy Energia) SLD built instruments are on the way to the International Space Station.

Two Miniature Orbital Temperature References instruments — MOTRs — built by Utah State University Research Foundation’s Space Dynamics Laboratory were successfully launched Nov. 25 and are heading to the International Space Station.

The instruments will test a technology critical for maintaining accurate calibration of the space-based temperature sensors used for many satellite programs.

The MOTR instruments were carried in the Progress 53 cargo vehicle which lifted off on a Soyuz rocket at 1:53 (MST) Nov. 25 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station Nov. 29 when the MOTR instruments will undergo further testing.

“This launch is a key milestone in a several-year effort for the MOTR team and for SDL,” said Gail Bingham, SDL’s project scientist for the MOTR mission. “This is a first step in space qualifying a critical technology for improving our understanding of the Earth’s environment and on long term space missions.”

All temperature sensors’ calibrations drift with time and changes in their environment and therefore must be recalibrated at intervals to assure their accuracy. The MOTR technology will allow temperature sensors to be recalibrated to the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology accuracy during the lifetime of their space mission. A prime use for the technology is in the sensors on the NASA and NOAA satellites that measure the Earth’s atmosphere for weather and climate predictions.

During the next three months the MOTR instruments will make multiple comparisons, each lasting a few hours, between the readings of their temperature sensors and the melting points of water and other pure materials used to set international temperature scales. After the testing period completes, the MOTR instruments will be returned to Earth along with three ISS crew members in the Soyuz 36 capsule, currently scheduled to depart the station March 12, 2014. The landing recovery team will transfer the MOTR units to SDL’s partner laboratory, the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, where the joint SDL/IBMP team will begin detailed analysis of the performance of these mostly student built sensors.

The MOTR program was jointly funded by SDL and the NASA Earth Science Technology Office.

A unit of the Utah State University Research Foundation, SDL is one of 14 University Affiliated Research Centers in the nation. Charged with applying basic research to the technology challenges presented in the military and science arenas, SDL has developed revolutionary solutions that are changing the way the world collects and uses data. SDL's core competencies are electro-optical sensor systems, calibration, thermal management, reconnaissance systems, and small satellite technologies.  Headquartered in Logan, Utah, SDL has operations in Albuquerque, N.M.; Bedford, Mass.; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Huntsville, Ala.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Houston, Texas.

Contact: Eric Warren, Space Dynamics Laboratory, 435.713.3054,

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