Lara Waldrop to Lead $75 Million NASA Mission to Study Earth’s Atmosphere

By McKenzie Carpenter Wednesday, February 3, 2021

With so much still unknown about what is in outer space, NASA continues to explore regions of the universe that people never knew existed. As a result of this constant exploration, the agency has been able to learn and develop programs to continue improving spacecraft, radio communications, and satellites, among others, to further its mission. This led to the recent $75 million investment by a startup for a program to be led by professor and entrepreneur Lara Waldrop.

Earth viewed from space as the sun rises.

Who Is Lara Waldrop?

Lara Waldrop is an electrical and computer engineering assistant professor at the University of Illinois. In 2004, the entrepreneur earned a Ph.D. in astronomy and space physics from Boston University. She has research interests in space plasma diagnostics, small satellite mission design and implementation, and computational modeling of radiative processes, among other areas.

Over the years, she has received many different research, public service, and teaching honors — almost too many to name. Her impressive resume is supported by her research statement, which creates insight into the properties and behaviors of the atmospheric boundary that protects Earth from outer space and sustains the technological infrastructure humans have created. The entrepreneur’s research and success have led to her creation of a satellite, Global Lyman-alpha Imager of the Dynamic Exosphere, or GLIDE.

$75 Million NASA Satellite

GLIDE is set to launch in 2025 and will orbit in the Earth’s exosphere to gather data on how solar storms and flares interact with the Earth’s atmospheric defense layer. The entrepreneur said, “The exosphere is a critical component of Earth’s protection against solar storms,” She added that “GLIDE is the first mission designed explicitly to investigate this key atmospheric region, and it will reveal the nature and origins of the exosphere's global structure and temporal variability for the first time.”

NASA has stated that focusing on small satellites and tech demonstrations helps prove that smaller missions can be successful and useful, thereby providing a link to learning more about the solar system and developing even better technological capabilities for current or future missions the business will embark on.

Furthermore, all aspects of the mission will be handled by the GLIDE team, composed of members from the University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, UIUC's Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois (LASSI), Boston University's Center for Space Physics, and Ball Aerospace. In addition, university students will also be involved. The GLIDE project was one of two finalists responsible for NASA’s Mission of Opportunity — a rigorous and competitive selection process.

Construction is set to start on the entrepreneur’s project in 2022. Once launched in 2025, it will take GLIDE four months to reach the exosphere.

Final Conclusions

Lara Waldrop is an exceptionally impressive person with quite the pedigree. Her passion for research on outer space and Earth’s exosphere is very apparent. With the GLIDE project now funded by NASA, it will be interesting to see what the results of the mission are and how it will benefit space exploration in the future.

About the Author


Headshot for author McKenzie Carpenter

McKenzie Carpenter is a graduate of Central Michigan University with a B.A.A. in Integrative Public Relations and French. McKenzie has previously worked for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

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