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Academy space weather experiment heads into space

A U.S. Air Force Academy space weather experiment heads for the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis after the shuttle lifted off at at 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16, 2009, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The Academy's Integrated Miniaturized Electrostatic Analyzer is a rugged, smart-skin sensor measuring plasma density, temperature and spacecraft charging as part of the Materials International Space Station Experiment 7. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A U.S. Air Force Academy space weather experiment heads for the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis after the shuttle lifted off at at 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16, 2009, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The Academy's Integrated Miniaturized Electrostatic Analyzer is a rugged, smart-skin sensor measuring plasma density, temperature and spacecraft charging as part of the Materials International Space Station Experiment 7. (U.S. Air Force photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- A U.S. Air Force Academy space weather experiment heads for the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis after the shuttle lifted off at at 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Among the shuttle's many payloads on the 11-day mission is the Academy's Integrated Miniaturized Electrostatic Analyzer, or MESA for short.

The MESA was developed and patented at the Academy's Department of Physics. It is a rugged, smart-skin sensor measuring plasma density, temperature and spacecraft charging as part of the Materials International Space Station Experiment 7. The MISSE-7 MESA sensor replaces a similar sensor deployed to the International Space Station on the MISSE-6 experiment.

"The MESA that is going up to the space station replaces one that just came down from the space station. The major difference is that this time we will be able to use telemetry to get data "live" from the instrument. We are collecting 'space weather' data, basically the temperature and density of the plasma surrounding the space station," said Dr. Geoff Mcharg, the director of the Academy's Space Physics and Atmospheric Research Center.

The experiment has a mass of 0.576 kilograms, a volume of 10x10/2.5 centimeters and a power requirement of only 0.25 watts, making MESA many times smaller than conventional space weather instruments.

Data collected from the instrument will be analyzed by cadets, who helped build MESA. This experiment also continues the Academy tradition on developing future scientists and officers for the Air Force by having undergraduate cadets participate directly in the program.