ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen unveils a 1:1 model of the 314 kg observatory. Photo: Hasse Ferrold.

Denmark’s next space project ready in March 2018

Wednesday 22 Nov 17


Torsten Neubert
Chief Consultant
DTU Space
+45 45 25 97 31


ASIM consists of two main instruments for measuring light and X-ray radiation from thunderstorms.

One of the main instruments is an X-ray detector called MXGS (Modular X- and Gamma-ray Sensor).

The second instrument—Modular Multi-spectral Imaging Array (MMIA)—consists of two cameras and three photometers that detect flashes of light at different wavelengths.

Learn more about ASIM.

The ASIM climate observatory will observe and photograph powerful electrical discharges from thunderclouds from space.

Denmark’s next major European space project—The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) observatory—is on its way to the USA in preparation for its launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch is scheduled for 13 March 2018.

On 20 November, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen unveiled a 1:1 model of the climate observatory at the Danish technology company Terma.

The ASIM observatory will be launched into space using a SpaceX Falcon 9 two-stage rocket booster from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The observatory, which will be mounted on the outside of the European Columbus module on ISS, will observe and photograph the powerful electrical discharges from thunderclouds that reach upwards into the stratosphere and mesosphere. The lightning phenomena known as ‘red sprites’, ‘blue jets’, ‘halos’, and ‘elves’ provide knowledge about high-energy X-ray radiation and antibody emitted by the thunderclouds.

ASIM is being carried out under the auspices of the European Space Agency, ESA. The ASIM project falls under DTU Space, which is responsible for scientific management and some instrument development. The Danish technology company Terma A/S has overall technical responsibility for the observatory, while the Danish Meteorological Institute is participating in the scientific interpretation of the data.

Denmark leading the field
“It’s always exciting when we in Denmark find ourselves at the forefront of space travel and exploration. Despite being a small country, we definitely have the skills, know-how, and highly trained people—and in the areas in which we choose to participate, we can be a world leader. The ASIM project is a really good example of this,” said Andreas Mogensen at the unveiling.

During his stay at ISS in September 2015, Andreas Mogensen already participated directly in the research by taking spectacular images and video recordings of the giant lightning bolts.

During the ASIM mission, Andreas Mogensen—who has been seconded to NASA—will act as lead Capcom at the control centre in Houston. Here, shortly after launch, he will communicate with the astronauts aboard ISS as they prepare to grab the Dragon transport vehicle—where the observatory is located—using a 17-metre long robot arm.

“Having been in space or on board the space station provides you with a lot of important knowledge and experience—especially in the capacity of Capcom. I’m familiar with the equipment the astronauts are using and the challenges facing them if something gets broken and needs repairing. Typically, the job of Capcom is about translating from highly technical engineer speak into a more operational language, which the astronauts can understand,” says Andreas Mogensen.

New knowledge about lightning
According to Senior Executive Officer Torsten Neubert, DTU Space—the man with overall scientific responsibility for the ASIM project—the giant lightning bolts are linked to weather conditions and the climate. Hence the great amount of interest in monitoring what is happening above the thunderclouds:

“The lightning phenomena occur in the thin outer mesosphere where the discharges are greater than here on Earth. The ASIM project will enable us to measure these discharges using existing technology, providing us with new knowledge about lightning and thus better models for predicting its effect on greenhouse gas emissions.”

The ASIM project will ensure Denmark a leading international position—both in science and technology.

“Thanks in part to partnerships with the business sector, DTU enjoys a leading position in important niche areas within space technology. We hope the project will cause more young people to become interested in taking a natural sciences education, as we will need these engineers in the future,” says Kristian Pedersen, Director of DTU Space.

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