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Published April 19, 2013, 10:42 AM

St Cloud State professor is part of NASA project

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — A St. Cloud State University physicist has learned he will be part of a NASA project that will study fluctuations in the Earth's atmosphere.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — A St. Cloud State University physicist has learned he will be part of a NASA project that will study fluctuations in the Earth's atmosphere.

The St. Cloud Times reported Friday that John Harlander will be part of a team that will develop instruments for a satellite mission to be launched in 2017. The team is called the Ionospheric Connection, or ICON team.

"The proposal process has been over a three-year period in which we've been competing for these funds," he said. "It's pretty exciting. ... Statistically, the odds were not great (to be chosen), but we were pretty confident, and we felt we had a good team and a good project, and apparently NASA did, too, so we're very happy about that."

Harlander, a professor of physics, astronomy and engineering science, will design, build and test an optical instrument to measure winds and temperatures in the upper layer of the Earth's atmosphere. The mission will study fluctuations that interfere with communications and GPS satellites, which NASA says can have an economic impact on the U.S.

Harlander said he will also be part of data analysis once the satellite is collecting information from space.

Harlander has some prior experience with NASA. He helped design an instrument known as SHIMMER (Spatial Heterodyne Imager for Mesospheric Radicals), which flew on NASA's Shuttle Atlantis in 2002.

The ICON mission is one of two proposals recently selected by NASA to study the upper atmosphere. The projects are part of the agency's Explorer Program, which is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for science investigations.

NASA said costs for its Explorer missions, such as ICON, are capped at $200 million each.

"One of the scientific goals of ICON is to understand turbulence in the Earth's ionosphere," Harlander said. "We don't really understand in detail what is driving these turbulences, if you will, and the ultimate goal of these measurements is to get to a point that we can do forecasting of these disturbances."

The ICON team has 30 members from many universities.

Harlander's students will also participate in the ICON project through a prototype being installed on campus.

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