BOULDER - Researchers at a space laboratory at the University of Colorado-Boulder will receive about $36 million from NASA to build and operate a space instrument that will collect data about space weather.

A small number of new employees may be hired to work on the project, both at Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, or LASP, at CU-Boulder, and at a collaborator, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, in Boulder, according to Mark Lankton, project manager. About 40 local researchers will work on the project, including five to 10 students, Lankton said in a press statement.

Geomagnetic storms in space can disrupt communication and navigation satellites, affecting cell phone coverage, global positioning system navigation and television programming. The LASP instrument - at 60 pounds and about two feet long - will gather data on Earth's upper atmosphere in the far ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to help explain more about such storms.

The project will be called the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, according to a LASP press statement.

"GOLD's imaging represents a new paradigm for observing the boundary between Earth and space," Bill McClintock, a senior research scientist at LASP and the deputy principal investigator on the project, said in the press statement. "It will revolutionize our understanding of how the sun and the space environment affect our upper atmosphere."

The project will be a collaboration between LASP, the University of Central Florida and the commercial satellite company SES Government Solutions in McLean, Virginia. Other participants include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, the University of California-Berkeley and Computational Physics Inc. of Springfield, Virginia. NASA plans to spend $55 million on the project in all.

SES Government Solutions is scheduled to launch the LASP instrument on a communication satellite in 2017. The NASA award for the research instrument could lead to future operational project awards for LASP, McClintock said.