ASIM will be transported to the ISS with a Dragon module launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX 2 April 2018. (SpaceX)

Danish-led space project ready for launch at Cape Canaveral

Thursday 22 Mar 18

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Torsten Neubert
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DTU Space
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DTU Space
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The last preparations are well-underway at Cape Canaveral in Florida leading up to the launch of the space project ASIM to survey thunderstorms from the International Space Station, ISS.

Danish experts have recently been working long hours in Florida to get the ASIM project completely ready for the scheduled launch into space on 2 April 22:30 Central European Time (CET). The launch will take place from Cape Canaveral at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

And major milestones have been reached. The instrument package that constitutes ASIM (the Atmosphere Space Interactions Monitor) has been successfully installed in the Dragon module which will carry the equipment up to the International Space Station, ISS, on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from the private company SpaceX.

"We have had some hectic days and weeks in Florida, but the equipment has now been integrated and tested inside the Dragon module and is ready to be transported to the hangar where the Falcon 9 is being prepared for launch”, says project manager Ole Hartnack from Terma A/S who has been very busy preparing the ASIM observatory for launch.

"We look forward to reaping the scientific benefits of all the work that has been put into development, design, and testing of ASIM"
Per Lundahl Thomsen, Chief Consultant DTU Space

Close international collaboration

The mission is an international project realized through the European Space Agency (ESA). Terma has the technical leadership while The National Space Institute of the Danish Technical University (DTU Space) provides the scientific leadership.

“The ASIM project is the largest Danish Space project ever developed. For Terma, it has been a very exciting journey to lead an international team of scientists and engineers who in the past 10 years have been involved in the development. We are now ready to launch the observatory to the space station”, says Carsten Jørgensen, Terma Senior Vice President, Space.

ASIM is an observatory, which will be installed outside on the ISS on the European Columbus module. ASIM will be used to study high-altitude electrical discharges in the stratosphere and mesosphere above severe thunderstorms, the so-called red sprites, blue jets, haloes, and elves, and monitor X-ray and Gamma-ray flashes. A knowledge which can be used to identify climate processes in the atmosphere and improve climate models for the Earth.

"The team behind this project has worked very hard and done an excellent job. This project show that Danish universities in cooperation with the industry and international partners can deliver unique scientific equipment to be used in space," says DTU Space director Kristian Pedersen.

Space crafts can be reused

The Dragon module is a free-flying spacecraft that brings supplies and equipment to ISS. It is located at the top of the 70 meter high Falcon 9 rocket.

The load in the Dragon is stored in two connected modules. Partly in a cargo area that is under pressure and used for supplies that need to be inside the ISS. And partly in an open cargo area that is not under pressure. Here larger equipment and instruments are positioned until installation outside the ISS. ASIM is now positioned in the open cargo area together with two other experiments to be launched to ISS. Getting ASIM positioned in the Dragon module has been carried out in close collaboration between Terma, NASA, SpaceX and ESA.

"The integration of ASIM and the other elements in the Dragon spacecraft is precision work with very complicated lifts of ASIM, the other instruments and the Dragon modules. It requires high concentration to handle the equipment as it is very expensive and fragile equipment that must be completely intact before launch,” says Ole Hartnack.

The launch mission that ASIM is part of is called SpaceX CRS-14. Both the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon module can return to the Earth and be reused by SpaceX.

Denmark's largest space instrument

Chief Consultant at DTU Space Per Lundahl Thomsen who also works on the ASIM project looks forward to the launch of ASIM and to the new knowledge the mission will provide.

"It has taken more than ten years to implement this amazing idea, and now we have almost reached the goal. More than 100 dedicated experts from Denmark, Norway, Poland, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Canada, and the United States have participated in the project. We look forward to reaping the scientific benefits of all the work that has been put into development, design, and testing of ASIM," he says.

Following the plan, the Dragon spacecraft will be joined with the Falcon 9 launcher about four days before the launch on 2 April at 22:30 CET. However, weather, technique, and security challenges may lead to changes to the schedule, but the uncertainty will decrease as the time of launch approaches.

The Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science has supported the ASIM project through different funding initiatives - among them a special contribution through 'globaliseringspuljen' in 2009-2012 for climate research activities through ESA. This initiative made it possible to strengthen both the development and implementation of Danish front edge technology as well as the cooperation between universities and private entreprises.

Read more on the ASIM project here.

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