So what exactly does Arcata do?

For the engineers who work at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center within Edwards Air Force Base, it can be something different every day.

NASA and the military are acronym-happy agencies and in late January, Dryden engineers were working on SCAMP, the Superboom Caustic Analysis and Measurement Program, to measure the effects of sonic booms.

For that test, researchers placed a two-mile string of microphones across the desert to record the noise generated by an accelerating F/A-18 jet.

“When a supersonic aircraft accelerates to its cruise speed, a focusing effect occurs that makes the sonic boom five to 10 times louder than its normal cruise sonic boom over a small region,” said Edward Haering, the principal investgator for the SCAMP project. “This effect is similar to how light rays are focused by a lens.”

Arcata officials supply the technical data for the experiments, usually providing information in real time while recording it for future analysis.

To monitor and record the data, Arcata manages an array of antennas, dishes and specialized equipment. It also maintains mobile units to take some devices to remote locations for tests.

In the past year, Arcata officials have been associated with a number of missions and experiments:

• The SOFIA Observatory. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy is a collaboration with the German Aerospace Center for a 100-inch telescope that analyzes infrared light. The observatory has GREAT — German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz frequencies — mounted in a modified Boeing 747 jet. In June, the flying observatory observed Pluto as it passed in front of a distant star. Twenty-six educators from across the United States, including a teacher from Sparks, were selected to fly SOFIA in 2012 and 2013.

• Operation IceBridge. NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory flew in October and November, surveying and mapping glaciers and the thickness of sea ice and ice sheets in Antarctica. During the six-week mission, the lab flew from Punta Arenas, Chile, most of the flights lasting more than 11 hours.

• WISPAR. NASA used its unmanned Global Hawk aircraft in a three-month project for the Winter Storms and Pacific Atmospheric Rivers campaign. Scientists studied how atmospheric rivers influence weather patterns and could assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop better forecasts.

• Forest fires and volcanoes. Unmanned aircraft also were used to monitor forest fires in the western United States, guiding firefighters where to drop water and slurry on fire hotspots. Dryden’s Gulfstream III science aircraft also was utilized to conduct volcano imaging over Hawaii and Alaska.

• Biofuel emissions testing. Renewable biofuel made from chicken and beef tallow was tested in one of the Dryden DC-8 flying lab’s four jet engines. The Alternate Aviation Fuels Experiment enabled research to test the fuel’s performance as well as examine exhaust chemicals and their contribution to air pollution.

• Mars Rover tests. Dryden and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory flight-tested the Mars Science Laboratory’s landing radar using an F/A-18 jet. A pod beneath the left wing of the plane transmitted data as the jet made a series of subsonic, stair-step dives over Rogers Dry Lake at angles of 40 to 90 degrees to simulate the lander’s radar during entry into the Martian atmosphere.

• Space shuttle support. The nation’s space shuttle program came to an end last year and through it all, Edwards was one of the alternative landing locations to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. During the more than 30 years of the program, 54 shuttle landings occurred at Edwards. The hoist used to place the shuttle atop a Boeing 747 transport plane, less than a quarter mile from the Arcata office, is expected to be dismantled in the months ahead.