January 31, 2023

University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute

There is a new director at Alaska satellite facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. Wade Albright has been with ASF since 1996, just five years after starting the job. He had served as interim director since late January 2022, when then-director Nettie La Belle-Hamer left to become UAF vice chancellor for research.

“I’m proud to be associated with ASF because we’ve done such phenomenal things.” Albrecht said. “We were so successful. And that is because of the amazing people at ASF.”

Photo by JR Ancheta

The Alaska Satellite Facility operates six satellite dishes, four for NASA, that downlink Earth Observation remote sensing data from pole-orbiting government and commercial satellites. Below these antennas is the iconic blue dish atop the Elvey Building, home of the Geophysical Institute.

UAF photo by Todd Paris

ASF also processes and archives downlink synthetic aperture radar data and makes it available to scientific users around the world. In SAR, an instrument onboard a satellite emits energy and records the amount reflected back after interacting with the Earth.

SAR data has seen a dramatic increase in user numbers since 2014, when the European Space Agency launched its Sentinel-1 satellite and made its SAR data freely available. ASF links Sentinel-1 data under an agreement between the US Department of State and the European Commission.

A significant amount of data downlinked by ASF also comes from the four antennas that the facility operates as NASA’s polar ground station. The service provides space communications for all federal agencies working with NASA.

International Arctic Research Center.
UAF photo by Yuri Bult-Ito

ASF is the top rated Distributed Active Archive Center among the 12 such centers in NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System. The ASF center is responsible for the SAR data.

Albright credits ASF’s top spot to its employees and their efforts to make synthetic aperture radar data more user-friendly and accessible. SAR data is used for numerous public and business purposes, such as: B. the classification of plants and the detection of flooding by surface water and deformation of the earth’s surface.

ASF has simplified the use of SAR data by developing tools that make Sentinel-1 data ready for analysis and just another layer in GIS applications.

“The ASF staff have written some amazing tools to use this data,” said Albert. “This has been our mission for several years: to make SAR data more user-friendly.”

As director, Albright oversees a team of nearly 100 people, a number that has nearly doubled in the past five years due to additional contracts with NASA, other federal agencies, and commercial entities.

That number could increase as the scope of ASF’s work grows with the launch of a satellite by NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization. The satellite will provide information on the Earth’s changing ecosystems and surfaces, biomass, natural hazards, sea level rise and groundwater. According to NASA, it will also support a variety of other applications.

“NASA gave us a lot of work, so we had to hire people, a lot of them software engineers, to keep up.” said Albert. “We have tremendous growth.”

Albright said the Alaska Satellite Facility offers good jobs that include innovation and new technologies to advance earth sciences. ASF will have a variety of needs and opportunities as it grows, he added.

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