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Space: July 11, 2004
   

The revolving door between military and civilian technologies has spanned a range of advancements, from microprocessor development to GPS receivers. But how will NASAs Earth Observation System aid the U.S. military in the next decade?

In cooperation with French and Canada, a series of satellites dubbed The A-Train (short for Afternoon Express) will make a series of detailed measurements of atmospheric and weather conditions with a variety of different sensors. The satellites are designed to pass over the same portions of the earth within a 15 minute time period, allowing for data from the observations to be combine together. Aqua and Aura are in orbit now, CloudSAT, CALIPSO and PARABOL to be launched later this year. A final satellite, OCO, will be put into orbit next year. 

All of the satellites are designed to help researchers better understand the earths atmosphere and climatic changes, so one net result should be better modeling for weather predictions always a nice tool for war planners. Several of the satellites are designed to measure cloud formations and aerosols things like natural fog and pollution-driven smog -- in the atmosphere, important data not only for weather forecasts, but for the optics used by electro-optical reconnaissance sensors and lasers. The most near-term unclassified program that should benefit from NASA-gathered data is the Airborne Laser (ABL) project designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in the boost phase. Lower-powered solid-state diode lasers are used for range-finding and sensing the atmosphere to adjust the optics before a main high-powered chemical laser is fired to kill inbound missiles. Collected data can also be applied to such projects as communications lasers for high-speed data communications between geo-stationary satellites and objects much closer to the planets surface, such as ships, troops, and aircraft Doug Mohney