University of Calgary

Space weather gear readied for the final frontier

Sept. 19, 2006

U of C scientists oversee design of instruments for Canada’s next satellite mission

yau Blizzards, rain showers, heat waves and wind are familiar to most people as weather patterns that can have a big impact on their daily life.

But what about atmospheric outflows, auroral emissions and plasma winds? While those aren’t terms we hear on the average weather forecast, they cause cosmic storms that rage just outside the Earth’s atmosphere and often wreak havoc with telecommunications networks, power grids and other technology essential to Canadian society. Researchers are hoping to gain a better understanding of this “space weather” with a suite of scientific instruments being developed under the leadership of the University of Calgary’s Institute for Space Research.

“Most people don’t realize it, but just like we’re affected by weather on the ground, we’re also affected by the weather in space,” said U of C physics professor Andrew Yau who is the lead researcher for the Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe (ePOP) project. “The data from ePOP will give us a much better view of various space weather phenomena and hopefully teach us how to prepare for them before they cause damage.

”The probe will include eight instruments, three of which are being built at U of C, to investigate how the environment in space is affected by variability in the sun’s energetic particles, known as “solar wind.” Research will focus on the ionosphere, where the solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field and creates disturbances such as the aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights. The ePOP system will be incorporated into the Canadian Space Agency’s CASSIOPE satellite, a joint science and telecommunications satellite scheduled to be launched in 2008.

"CASSIOPE will carry another experimental payload, named Cascade, that will demonstrate a new high speed, large capacity digital courier service," said Berthier Desjardins, program manager at the Canadian Space Agency. "Cascade will allow very large amounts of information to be received on orbit, stored and delivered anywhere in the world. The ePOP science team will take advantage of this unprecedented capacity to collect and quickly deliver large amounts of data for use by the science community.

"Once complete, ePOP and Cascade will be intergated into CASSIOPE at Bristol Aerospace Ltd. in Winnipeg. The satellite will then be transported to Ottawa for complete testing. Once in orbit above the north pole, ePOP data will be downlinked to the Cascade ground terminal in Montreal and transferred to the U of C’s Institute for Space Research for analysis by the ePOP science team.