University of Calgary

University-made instruments set to fly on CASSIOPE space mission

UToday HomeJuly 15, 2013

CASSIOPE, the CAscade SmallSat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer satellite is expected to be launched by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) on its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in mid-September. The live broadcast of the launch will be available on the SpaceX Website at http://www.spacex.com/

By Mark Lowey

University of Calgary instruments on CASSIOPE include an ion detector.University of Calgary instruments on CASSIOPE include an ion detector, an electron detector and a fast-auroral imager for capturing images of the Northern Lights. Artist’s conceptionUniversity of Calgary-designed and built instruments are ready for a mission to probe potentially dangerous space weather in the upper atmosphere – the first scientific satellite payload in Canada led by a university.

The university’s space scientists led development of three of eight instruments in the Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe (e-POP), scheduled to fly on CASSIOPE, the first made-in-Canada multi-purpose small satellite mission from the Canadian Space Agency.

“The three instruments all have much higher resolution capability compared to anything that has been flown up to this point, which should allow us to probe in as detailed a scale as possible,” says Andrew Yau, professor of physics and astronomy and e-POP’s mission scientist and project leader.

The collaborative mission, which involves seven University of Calgary scientists, also includes Richmond, B.C.-based MDA Corporation and several Canadian and international universities and research organizations.

The scientific mission’s aim is to help researchers understand the cause and effects of potentially dangerous global space storms as well as “sub-storms” that occur mostly above Earth’s polar regions. Better understanding may make it possible some day to ‘forecast’ such space weather.

Andrew Yau, professor of physics and astronomy in the Faculty of Science, is mission scientist and project leader of the Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe.Andrew Yau, professor of physics and astronomy in the Faculty of Science, is mission scientist and project leader of the Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe.Storms of solar particles and intense sub-storms of ionizing radiation can interfere with high-frequency radio communications, disrupt electrical power grids and distort Global Positioning Systems that help guide aircraft.

CASSIOPE will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, on a rocket provided by the U.S. space firm SpaceX, whose “Dragon” spacecraft recently completed its second mission to carrysupplies to and from the International Space Station. The satellite is planned to be moved from Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec to California later this month in preparation for launch.

The University of Calgary’s instruments already packed aboard CASSIOPE include an ion detector, an electron detector and a fast-auroral imager for capturing images of the aurora (known as the Northern Lights in the North Hemisphere). The satellite will also carry magnetometers, a neutral mass spectrometer, two radio instruments and several GPS units to study radio signal propagation in the ionosphere.

The satellite also will be carrying a technology demonstrator payload, called Cascade. The prototype payload is intended to demonstrate large-capacity data transfers.

Using a large tracking antenna at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory near Priddis, scientists will be able to capture data sent by the instruments. Artist’s conceptionUsing a large tracking antenna at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory near Priddis, scientists will be able to capture data sent by the instruments. Artist’s conceptionUniversity of Calgary scientists, using a large tracking antenna at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory near Priddis, south of Calgary, will be able to capture data sent by the e-POP instruments flying overhead at more than 25,000 kilometres per hour.

The information will be sent to a data-processing centre in the Science B building on campus, and also uploaded to a University of Alberta space science data portal for researchers’ use.

CASSIOPE measures 1.8 metre by 1.4 metre and weighs 481 kilograms – small compared with larger commercial communications satellites. It will fly in a slightly elliptical orbit that goes back and forth, over the equator, from the north to the south polar regions.

“It’s a small satellite, but there will be times you’ll be able to see it with a telescope,” especially under dark skies away from urban light pollution, Yau says.

Scientists hope to collect data from the e-POP instruments for at least two years, although most of CASSIOPE is designed to last about five years, before its orbit decays and the satellite re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and burns.

Read more about the mission.

 

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