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Friday November 17, 2000

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Satellite to test new optics technology

By Jeremy Duda

Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA researchers will witness launch of mission

A group of UA researchers left for California on Wednesday night to witness the launch of a satellite that will test new optical science technology developed at the university.

The EO-1, Earth Observing satellite, will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California tomorrow. The launch aims to test new technologies that will be useful in a wide range of study in many different aspects of environmental science.

The technology being tested is a set of optic filters used by satellites to take pictures of the earth's surface. Last year, NASA launched a satellite with 36 different filters, which was up from the previous high of seven. The EO-1 has almost 220 filters.

"Filters can see very slight changes in the chemistry of a plant, and these changes will send out a different signal," said Alfredo Huete, a soil, water and environmental sciences professor. Huete is one of the researchers who will observe the launch.

The applications for this type of technology are vast, Huete said. The filters can be used to observe changes in surface temperature, abundance of sea life and a host of other environmental factors on earth.

"Our expertise is using satellites to look at the vegetation of the planet," said Huete.

The satellite, which is being launched on the same rocket as an Argentine satellite called SAC-C, will not be involved in any research projects. The purpose of the launch is to test the filter technology, and it will be in orbit for two years.

"We need to test the new technology in space to be sure it will perform under those harsh conditions," said Ed Zalewski, an optical sciences research professor and co-investigator of the project

The project is headed by optical sciences associate research professor Stuart Biggar, who is already in California and could not be reached for comment.

Zalewski will not be among the group witnessing the launch due to other work he has here in Tucson.

"The emphasis used to be on big, multi-purpose satellites, but now it is on smaller ones with a singular purpose. That way if it blows up, it is not as big a deal," Huete said.

The satellite being launched tomorrow is comparatively low-cost in respect to most satellite launches. This is beneficial to NASA, which is interested in making launches cheaper and easier, Huete said. EO-1 is fairly small and only has the one purpose of testing the new optic technology, Huete said.

The EO-1 satellite is scheduled to be launched tomorrow at 10:24 a.m. Pacific standard time. Accompanying Huete and Biggar will be Kurtis Thome, also an associate professor of optical sciences and co-investigator of the project.