Researchers at the University of Calgary hope their recently launched satellite will help unlock some mysteries surrounding space weather.
Cassiope, the Cascade SmallSat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer, was launched into orbit Sept. 29. Led by the University of Calgary, universities across Canada provided the scientific payload that will collect new data on space storms. The project is being run in conjunction with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
At this point, the project is still in the commissioning phase — making sure everything on the satellite is functioning properly.
"We're in the phase where it does the easy things. Now we're trying to say, 'OK, well, since you can do that, can you do this and this and this now'," said Greg Enno, with the U of C's Institute for Space Imaging Science.
Cassiope will be orbiting the Earth for at least five years, but has so far only been funded by the CSA for two years. The goal is that it will help researchers better understand the interaction between the Earth and sun.
"We're watching that part of our atmosphere interact with the solar wind, the UV radiation, coronal mass ejection events and different magnetic pulses from the interplanetary magnetic field because all of these effect our upper atmosphere," said Enno.
"How that interacts with space tells us a little bit about how our atmosphere will evolve over time and that is important to, of course, everybody because we can predict what's it going to do in 100 years, 1,000 years, a million years."
Enno and others on the research team have been involved in this project since 1997. The idea for this mission came from a previous mission with a Swedish team but, at the time, Enno says technology wasn't available then for this kind of observation.
"Unfortunately the instruments at the time weren't designed to look at it in particular — it was sort of in their peripheral vision and it looked like there was something very exciting going on. And so we proposed a mission that was focusing particularly on this event and when it got approved, we were very happy."
This mission will study the very upper regions of the atmosphere. Cassiope does an elliptical orbit that can go as low as 325 kilometers in altitude, all the way up to 1,500 kilometers. The satellite will skim the atmosphere with every orbit, slowing down a little each time, until it eventually re-enters the atmosphere in five years. Since it's largely made of aluminum, it will disintegrate upon re-entry.
Enno says opportunities for this kind of research don't happen often.
"We're hoping that since this is the first time we've been looking into this region in any real detail, that we'll discover things we had no idea were there and of course that we'll be naturally spinning off into more further studies with different instruments and ideas on how to figure out what's going on."
We initially reported that Cassiope does an elliptical orbit that can go as low as 325 meters in altitude. In fact, the elliptical orbit can go as low as 325 kilometres.Oct 15, 2013 7:30 AM MT