Lately we’ve been donating time to Project PoSSUM. This NASA-funded project aims to launch citizen scientists to the upper mesophere on a XCOR Lynx spacecraft to collect data on noctilucent clouds, an elusive and mysterious cloud type found only at high latitudes, extremely high altitudes, and visible only under specific conditions. Little is known about these clouds, and this project aims to both learn more about them, and to make human spaceflight more accessible.
Our involvement has been in developing an add-on for the X-Plane flight simulator to accurately represent noctilucent clouds, which will be used for training potential astronauts for the actual mission. I’ve taken what little is known about these clouds from ground-based and NASA’s AIM spacecraft observations, and used these to make these clouds appear at the right time, altitude, and location. Their lighting is simulated by casting rays from the sun and handling the effects of forward scattering, and this allows you to identify the clouds from the ground, and then fly up through them in a simulated Lynx spacecraft, observe them from above, and return to the landing strip.
“These simulations will assist PoSSUM scientist-astronauts better identify noctilucent cloud structures of greatest scientific importance in the limited time available”, commented Project PoSSUM P.I. Jason Reimuller. “Sundog was able to quickly develop this software and we will work closely with them to mature the simulation”
We at Sundog believe strongly in the long-term importance of human spaceflight capabilities, and this project has presented a unique opportunity to apply our skills in cloud visual simulation toward this effort. We’re proud to be a part of it, and look forward to the first flights in 2016!