An Overview of the Fast Auroral Snapshot (FAST) Satellite
The FAST satellite is a highly sophisticated scientific satellite designed to carry out in situ measurements of acceleration physics and related plasma processes associated with the Earth’s aurora. Initiated and conceptualized by scientists at the University of California at Berkeley, this satellite is the second of NASA’s Small Explorer Satellite program designed to carry out small, highly focused, scientific investigations. FAST was launched on August 21, 1996 into a high inclination (83°) elliptical orbit with apogee and perigee altitudes of 4175 km and 350 km, respectively. The spacecraft design was tailored to take high-resolution data samples (or’ snapshots’) only while it crosses the auroral zones, which are latitudinally narrow sectors that encircle the polar regions of the Earth. The scientific instruments include energetic electron and ion electrostatic analyzers, an energetic ion instrument that distinguishes ion mass, and vector DC and wave electric and magnetic field instruments. A state-of-the-art flight computer (or instrument data processing unit) includes programmable processors that trigger the burst data collection when interesting physical phenomena are encountered and stores these data in a 1 Gbit solid-state memory for telemetry to the Earth at later times. The spacecraft incorporates a light, efficient, and highly innovative design, which blends proven sub-system concepts with the overall scientific instrument and mission requirements. The result is a new breed of space physics mission that gathers unprecedented fields and particles observations that are continuous and uninterrupted by spin effects. In this and other ways, the FAST mission represents a dramatic advance over previous auroral satellites. This paper describes the overall FAST mission, including a discussion of the spacecraft design parameters and philosophy, the FAST orbit, instrument and data acquisition systems, and mission operations.
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