BOULDER – The University of Colorado has found a new ride for its hitchhiking solar-energy monitor.

CU and Boulder-based Ball Aerospace & Technology Corp. have announced that the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM) will fly sometime in 2013 aboard the STPSat-3 spacecraft, which Ball built for the U.S. Air Force, thanks to a cooperative agreement between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Air Force.

The instrument originally was intended to fly as a space shuttle Hitchhiker payload as part of a program at CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).

The instrument will measure the sun's net energy output or total solar irradiance, continuing a 35-year climate data record that is a key component in understanding Earth’s climate system, according to a Ball press statement. Its findings will be part of NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System program, which incorporates a broad set of critical weather and climate measurements, and includes the nation's next state-of-the-art civil polar weather satellite, JPSS-1, also being built by Ball Aerospace in preparation for a 2017 launch.

“To understand the causes of climate change, said Greg Kopp, LASP scientist and TIM principal investigator, “we need to monitor fluctuations in incident sunlight, which is the dominant energy driving Earth’s climate. This timely collaboration among NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Air Force, Ball, and LASP should help us maintain continuity and accuracy in this critical long-term data record by providing overlap between a currently on-orbit but aging TIM and a future version of the instrument.”

Ball Aerospace is a subsidiary of Ball Corp. (NYSE:BLL).

"This cost effective solution and rapid schedule will help to mitigate the potential gap left by the loss of the Glory mission in this critically important climate data record," said David L. Taylor, president and chief executive of Ball Aerospace, in the press statement. "The STPSat-3 was built in only 47 days, and demonstrated the outstanding flexibility of its standardized interface approach by accommodating additional payloads after the spacecraft was completed."

The TIM instrument will be one of five payloads on board the Air Force’s STPSat-3 spacecraft when it launches aboard a Minotaur I in 2013.