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Water Vapor Sensors Go Sky-High to Assure Aircraft Safety

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) developed a special type of laser diode-based gas analyzer that the Space Agency could use to measure atmospheric gasses on Earth and Mars. In doing so, JPL used a tunable diode laser, which NASA scientists could tune to different wavelengths-like a radio being tuned to different frequencies-to accurately target specific molecules and detect small traces of gas. The technology, developed as part of the 1999 Mars Polar Lander mission to explore the possibility of life-giving elements on Mars, has since been used on aircraft and on balloons to successfully study weather and climate, global warming, emissions from aircraft, and numerous other areas where chemical gas analysis is needed. SpectraSensors, Inc., was formed in 1999 as a spinoff company of JPL, to commercialize the tunable diode laser for industrial gas-sensing applications. Now, the San Dimas, California-based firm has come back to the market with a new product featuring the NASA-developed sensor for atmospheric monitoring. This instrument is now helping aircraft avoid hazardous weather conditions and enabling the National Weather Service to provide more accurate weather forecasts.
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