PoSSUM Aeronomy Courses

Project PoSSUM Aeronomy

The PoSSUM Aeronomy Program provides a practical education for the professional interested in upper-atmospheric research from research aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and suborbital spacecraft. Emphasis is on the study of noctilucent clouds from research aircraft, the design of space instrumentation and on mission specific training for suborbital noctilucent cloud tomography missions. This Program has been co-developed by Project PoSSUM, Integrated Spaceflight Services, Columbia University, GATS, Inc., and Aerospatial Systems.

What we do

PoSSUM Airborne Science Patch_small

Airborne Remote Sensing of Noctilucent Clouds

Project PoSSUM partners with Aerospatial Systems to conduct airborne imagery and remote sensing of noctilucent cloud structures from High Level, Alberta using a Turbo Mooney research aircraft. Individual sorties are designed to compensate for solar motion and synchronize with the AIM satellite, which observes noctilucent cloud structures from space, and with terrestrial observation sites to facilitate tomographic reconstruction. These images are used to test the low-latitude thresholds of space-based imagery and qualify instrumentation for PoSSUM high-altitude balloon and suborbital spacecraft missions.


Airborne NLC Imagery Missions
PoSSUM Balloon Science Patch_small

High-Altitude Balloon Imaging of Noctilucent Clouds

Project PoSSUM works in partnership with GATS, Columbia University, and Integrated Spaceflight Services to develop and test camera systems designed to fly on a high-altitude, NASA-funded balloon in support of the imagery experiment around the Antarctic polar vortex for two weeks in December 2017. PoSSUM graduates are engaged in the instrument development, testing, and educational outreach efforts in this novel experiment that will study atmospheric dynamics that can only be viewed in exquisite detail through very high resolution imagery techniques.

gondola 400x300
PoSSUM Suborbital Science Patch_small

Manned Suborbital Tomography of Noctilucent Clouds

The PoSSUMCam system will be used to obtain high-resolution imagery of noctilucent cloud microfeatures as suborbital spacecraft pass through the cloud layer, much like an MRI creates 3D representations of the human body.  These images will be used to build extremely high-resolution models of the small-scale structures of noctilucent cloud layers through modeling algorithms developed for the program. These structures have been difficult to resolve from previous means of observation from space-based or ground-based imagers but are believed to contain most of the information pertaining to energy and momentum deposition in the upper atmosphere.

Noctilucent cloud dynamical models constructed by PoSSUM team researchers that will be improved by imagery obtained through PoSSUM flights

PoSSUM Aeronomy Courses

AER 101: Suborbital Space Environment


AER 101 provides an understanding of the general properties and characteristics of the geospace environment and the underlying physical mechanisms. The student will understand the fundamentals of aeronomy, study of the atomospheric environment of the mesosphere and lower thermosphere (MLT) region of the atmosphere. Special emphasis is given to the to environmental hazards most relevant to the operations of manned spacecraft, including particles and radiation, impact phenomena, spacecraft charging, aerodynamic drag, and oxygen corrosion of surfaces.

AER 102: Celestial Navigation for Space Missions


AER 102 includes practical instruction in celestial navigation and how it pertains to suborbital and orbital imaging imaging and remote sensing missions. The course provides the skills necessary to navigate by use of a sextant and sight reduction tables. Topics include: selecting stars for navigation, use of a sextant, use of correction factors (e.g. refraction, dip, instrument error), use of sight reduction tables, and the determination of longitude and latitude using an Earth-based coordinate system.

AER 103: Airborne Remote Sensing of Noctilucent Clouds

Airborne NLC Imagery Missions

AER 103 provides a foundation in flight research. Students will learn how to integrate and test imagery systems to aircraft and then organize operational field campaigns and sorties using PoSSUM research aircraft to study noctilucent clouds in annual field campaigns based from High Level, AB. Students will train for one of two in-flight roles: navigator or instrument operator. Students will also participate in coordinated ground observation campaigns to facilitate tomographic reconstruction of airborne images. Students will learn to operate at high-altitudes (up to 23K’) in unpressurized aircraft. Transportation to High Level is organized from Edmonton, AB.

AER 104: Space Suit Operations in Aircraft and Accelerated Freefall

Jason Reimuller, right, and Dr. Sarah Jane Pell, are seated and preparing to take off with help from Jorge Latre. Jason Reimuller, a scientist who is principal investigator at PoSSUM, a Bolder-based outfit involved in suborbital scientific exploration of the upper mesosphere, supervised a test of a spacesuit designed for use in research aircraft at the Boulder Municipal Airport on Saturday. Dr. Sarah Jane Pell was wearing the spacesuit for testing. For more photos and a video, go to www.dailycamera.com. Cliff Grassmick  Staff Photographer  July 30, 2016

AER 104 provides mission specific training for using space suits on science missions on high altitude aircraft and spacecraft in preparation for high altitude reserach including suborbital PoSSUM noctilucent clouds tomography missions. Students will learn to use PoSSUM camera instrumentation in small research aircraft while using IVA spacesuits. Egress techniques will be covered as well as accelerated freefall in space suits.

Course Curriculum and Schedule

AER 101: Suborbital Space Environment

The course provides an overview of the atmospheric and space environment experience by suborbital spacecraft. It builds an understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere from the troposphere over the stratosphere and mesosphere to the thermosphere and the near-Earth space environment. The course will introduce the relevant aspects of each environment with a focus on dynamics, chemistry, radiation environment and energetic particle environment, and discuss effects on spacecraft where applicable. The course will also discuss measurement techniques for key quantities in the various environments. The course will close with an outlook on space weather and an overview of the atmospheric environment of Mars.

Course Objectives
The course will provide each student with a basic knowledge about the Earth’s atmosphere from the troposphere to the near-Earth space environment. It will familiarize the student with basic concepts that describe these environments. It will introduce the student to relevant measurement techniques and outline how suborbital measurements contribute to the characterization of these environments. Students will be able to apply this knowledge of environmental effects on spacecraft and measurement design.

• Catling, D. C. and Kasting, J. F., Atmospheric Evolution on Inhabited and Lifeless Worlds, Cambridge, 2017.
• Fortescue, P., Swinerd, G., Stark, J., Spacecraft Systems Engineering (4th Edition), Wiley, 2011.
• Haberle, R. M., et al., The Atmosphere and Climate of Mars, Cambridge, 2017.


Lectures and Assignments
The course will consist of eight webinars in two-hour blocks (1.5 hours of lectures plus time for discussion of assignments) and six assignments. Two assignments will consist of self-study tasks to be summarized in write-ups/presentations, four assignments will based on questions and calculations. Students will receive either a Pass or Fail grade.


Webinar 1 (February 9, 2018)
Introduction to the Scientific Method, Introduction to the Earth’s Atmosphere, Atmospheric structure and large scale circulations, Concept of scale height and barometric formula

Webinar 2 (February 16, 2018) Troposphere, Planetary boundary layer, Coriolis force, Synoptic weather systems and fronts, Atmospheric stability and clouds, Impact of weather on spacecraft operations.

Webinar 3 (February 23, 2018) Stratosphere, Stratospheric dynamics, Concepts of potential temperature and potential vorticity ,Planetary and gravity waves, Stratospheric ozone chemistry and polar stratospheric clouds

Webinar 4 (2 March 2018) Radiative Properties of the Atmosphere – Climate, Principles of radiative transfer, Atmospheric transmission and absorption, Feedback mechanisms

Webinar 5 (9 March 2018) Mesosphere, Mesospheric structure and dynamics, Mesospheric composition and chemistry, Gravity waves and tides, Polar mesospheric clouds

Webinar 6 (March 16, 2018) Upper Atmosphere: Thermosphere and Ionosphere, Thermospheric structure and composition, Energy input – space weather, Ionospheric layers, Airglow and aurora, Environmental effects on spacecraft

Webinar 7 (March 23, 2018) Upper Atmosphere: Exosphere and Near-Earth Space Environment, Exobase and atmospheric escape ,Van Allen radiation belts, Solar energetic particles and cosmic rays – space weather, Environmental effects on spacecraf

Webinar 8 (March 30, 2018) Comparative Planetology: Introduction to Mars’ Atmosphere, Mars’ atmospheric structure and dynamics, Mars’ atmospheric composition, Dust and condensates and their radiative effects, Entry, descent and landing of spacecraft on Mars


Instructor: Dr. Armin Kleinboehl, Ph.D.

Location: PoSSUM Virtual Classroom

Cost: $625 (Open University)

AER 102: Celestial Navigation for Space Missions

AER 102 includes practical instruction in celestial navigation and how it pertains to suborbital and orbital imaging imaging and remote sensing missions. The course provides the skills necessary to navigate by use of a sextant and sight reduction tables. Topics include: selecting stars for navigation, use of a sextant, use of correction factors (e.g. refraction, dip, instrument error), use of sight reduction tables, and the determination of longitude and latitude using an Earth-based coordinate system.


Topics covered are:

  1. Explanation of time zones and how to convert standard and zone time to GMT.
  2. The how the sextant works measures the arc from body to horizon.
  3. Index error, dip and altitude correction for Sun, Moon, Stars and Planet.
  4. Calculate time of meridian passage of the Sun for any given Longitude.
  5. Calculation of times of Sunrise, Sunset, and Twilight.
  6. Observers Latitude by Sun noon or twilight Polaris sights.
  7. Construction of a chart from a blank sheet of paper.
  8. Construction of a Universal Plotting Sheet.
  9. Solving the Celestial triangle using H.O. 249 tables.
  10. Solving the Celestial triangle using S-tables (included in the Nautical Almanac so you do not need the H.O. 249 tables).
  11. Determining Latitude and Longitude using any of the following celestial bodies – sun, moon, planets and 53 navigational stars.
  12. Plotting of Celestial L.O.P. on a Universal Plotting Sheet using simultaneous sights or running sight methods.
  13. Determination of Azimuths and Altitude of navigational bodies at twilight.
  14. Calculation of Compass Deviation using Celestial bodies.
  15. Computing Great Circle routes.
  16. Setting up and using an artificial horizon.


Costs and Prerequisites:

Instructor: Jim Cook

Location: PoSSUM Virtual Classroom

Cost: $625 (Open University)

AER 103: Airborne Remote Sensing of Noctilucent Clouds

AER 103 provides a foundation in flight research as applied to the imagery of noctilucent cloud structures synchronized with ground and satellite observations.

Each program provides an immersive educational experience covering the following topics:

  • Integration and testing of imagery systems to research aircraft
  • Planning of operational field campaigns and sortie.
  • In-flight operations to image noctilucent cloud structures
  • High-altitide flight operations to FL230 in unpressurized aircraft
  • Coordination of Satellite and Ground observations
  • Image processing and data analysis


Mission Plan:

Sorties will be planned daily and waypoints, altitudes, and engine settings will be calculated based on AIM satellite ephemeris data, the solar position, and winds aloft. Missions will be flown when noctilucent cloud presence is verified through visual observation or through LiDAR detection.

Each mission will have: 1) pilot in command, 2) navigator, and 3) instrument technician and operator. Ground crew will consist of 1) mission flight director, 2) remote site camera operator, and 3) deputy remote site camera operator.

Missions flown synchronous with solar motion will be flown at FL180 for a duration of 90 minutes at altitude. Missions flown to intercept the AIM satellite will be flown at FL230 for a duration of 45 minutes.

Each student will have the opportunity to participate in a flight as well as a ground observation mission. Transportation to and from Edmonton, AB will be provided.


Costs and Prerequisites:

Instructor: Dr. Jason Reimuller, Ph.D.

Location: High Level, Alberta

Cost: $2800 includes transportation and lodging (graduation from PoSSUM Scientist-Astronaut Program or Advanced PoSSUM Academy required)

AER 104: Space Suit Operations in Aircraft and Accelerated Freefall
Details to be released soon.

Costs and Prerequisites:

Next Mission: TBD

Location: TBD

Cost: TBD