PoSSUM Aeronomy Courses

PoSSUM Mission Patch

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

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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
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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.

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PoSSUM Suborbital Science Patch_small

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: Remote Sensing and Modeling of the Mesosphere

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

AER 102 provides PoSSUM students a basic proficiency in programming and gain an understanding remote sensing techniques including light detection and ranging (lidar), radar, and computer vision in the context of emerging technologies such as autonomous navigation and terrain modelling as well as a review & extension of Project PoSSUM aeronomy collection & processing efforts.

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: High-Altitude Mesospheric Reserach

Chasing NLCs crop_lores

AER 104 is a customized program where students work directly with their PoSSUM team members to do high-altitude mesospheric research including aircraft and balloon observations of sprites and noctilucent clouds as well as the suborbital PoSSUM noctilucent clouds tomography missions. Courses are planned on case-by-case basis.

Course Curriculum and Schedule

AER 101: Suborbital Space Environment


The course provides an overview of the atmospheric and space environment experienced 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. The student with be able to apply basic concepts that describe these environments. The course will introduce the student to simple models of Earth’s atmosphere and allow him or her to apply them to questions concerning the atmospheric environment. It will introduce the student to relevant measurement techniques of atmospheric environments 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.



  • Sagan C., The Demon-haunted World – Science as a Candle in the Dark, Random house, 1996.
  • Frederick, J. F., Principles of Atmospheric Science, Jones and Bartlett, 2008.
  • Catling, D. C. and Kasting, J. F., Atmospheric Evolution on Inhabited and Lifeless Worlds, Cambridge, 2017.
  • Tascione, T. F., Introduction to the space environment (2nd), Krieger, 2010.
  • Fortescue, P., Swinerd, G., Stark, J., Spacecraft Systems Engineering (4th), Wiley, 2011.
  • Haberle, R. M., et al., The Atmosphere and Climate of Mars, Cambridge, 2017.

Lectures and Assignments

This is a 3-credit course that consists of ten 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.


The course will be run via GoToMeeting. Webinars will be held on Fridays from early February to mid-April and tentatively be scheduled at 4:00-6:00 pm PST/PDT (7:00-9:00 pm EST/EDT).



Webinar 1 February 7, 2020
Webinar 2 February 14, 2020
Webinar 3 February 21, 2020
Webinar 4 February 28, 2020
Webinar 5 March 6, 2020
Webinar 6 March 13, 2020
Webinar 7 March 20, 2020
Webinar 8 March 27, 2020
Webinar 9 April 3, 2020
Webinar 10 April 10, 2020



Webinar 1

Introduction to the Scientific Method

Introduction to the Earth’s Atmosphere

Atmospheric structure

Concept of scale height

Hydrostatic equation and barometric formula


Webinar 2

Radiative Properties of the Atmosphere – Climate

Black body radiation

            Interactions of light with matter

Atmospheric transmission

Atmospheric energy balance and greenhouse effect


Webinar 3

Troposphere (1)

Atmospheric lapse rate

Atmospheric stability and clouds

Forces driving wind

Impact of weather on spacecraft operations


Webinar 4

Troposphere (2)

Tropospheric circulation

Synoptic weather systems and fronts

Numerical weather prediction

Hazardous weather


Webinar 5


Stratospheric dynamics

Concept of potential temperature and gravity waves

Concept of potential vorticity and planetary waves

Stratospheric ozone chemistry and polar stratospheric clouds

Impact of air traffic on the stratosphere


Webinar 6


Mesospheric composition and chemistry

Mesospheric temperatures and energy balance

Mesospheric dynamics, gravity waves and tides

Polar mesospheric clouds and polar mesospheric summer echoes


Webinar 7

Upper Atmosphere: Thermosphere

Thermospheric energy input

Thermospheric composition and chemistry

Thermospheric structure

Environmental effects on spacecraft


Webinar 8

Upper Atmosphere: Ionosphere

Ionospheric layers

Impact on radio transmissions

Optical effects in the upper atmosphere


Webinar 9

Upper Atmosphere: Exosphere and Near-Earth Space Environment

Movement of charged particles

Earth’s magnetic field

Magnetosphere and Van Allen radiation belts

Solar energetic particles and cosmic rays – space weather

Exobase and atmospheric escape

Environmental effects on spacecraft


Webinar 10

Comparative Planetology: Introduction to Mars’ Atmosphere

Mars’ atmospheric structure and composition

Seasonal and diurnal temperature cycles

Dust and condensates and their radiative effects

Entry, descent and landing of spacecraft on Mars


Instructor: Dr. Armin Kleinboehl, Ph.D.

Schedule: 7 February to 10 April 2020

Location: PoSSUM Virtual Classroom

Cost: $625 (Open University)

Credits: 2 (IIAS Continuing Education)

AER 102: Remote Sensing and Modeling of the Mesosphere

Details coming soon

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)