Ten years ago today, NASA launched into orbit a satellite designed and built by the University of Colorado. While the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, or SORCE, was only designed to last five years, it's still fully functional a decade later.

For the past 10 years, CU undergraduates also have been assisting in downloading data twice a day from SORCE's instruments. The instruments on SORCE have allowed scientists for the first time to look at most of the wavelengths of light emitted by the sun, and, according to the university, scientists are now using that data to better understand how energy from the sun impacts Earth's climate.

"About 10 to 15 percent of the climate warming since 1970 is due to the sun," said Tom Woods, associate director of CU's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and principal investigator for SORCE. "That's going to change now. Now that solar activity is low, the global warming trend could slow down some, but not nearly enough to offset the anthropogenic effects on global warming."

According to the university, the SORCE mission also is a critical contributor to the long-term record of total solar irradiance, the magnitude of the sun's energy when it reaches the top of the Earth's atmosphere, which stretches back to 1978, when the Nimbus-7 satellite was launched. The Total Irradiance Monitor onboard SORCE is taking the most accurate and most precise measurements of total solar irradiance ever collected, officials said.

"It's important to have continuous measurements of solar irradiance since we're looking for small changes in the sun's output over decades and even centuries," said Gregg Kopp, LASP senior research scientist and co-investigator responsible for the TIM instrument. "Detecting such small changes using measurements disconnected in time would make this even more difficult."

In 2011, a new Total Irradiance Monitor was launched on NASA's Glory mission; however the satellite failed to make orbit.

"The battery is the weakest component right now, and will probably limit our life to maybe one to three years from now," Wood said.

According to the university, after the loss of Glory, CU scientists, determined to avoid a gap in the record of total solar irradiance measurements, came up with a creative solution, repurposing a ground-based Total Irradiance Monitor to quickly make it space-worthy and integrating it into a U.S. Air Force satellite that is set to launch in August of this year.

In all, CU has received about $120 million from NASA for the construction and operation of SORCE. But in 2008, LASP took the unusual step of returning $3 million in cost savings from the SORCE mission to NASA that resulted from the program's efficient operations.

"We are just extremely pleased that it has lasted this long and we hope it can keep going for a few more years to continue the solar climate record," Wood said. "We are extremely appreciative of all the people, hundreds of people, largely from the University of Colorado, that built this wonderful instrument and have kept the mission going all these years."