The three Swarm satelites in orbit (Illustration: ESA)

DTU assesses research-related tasks for ESA

Monday 03 Apr 17

Mapping the Earth’s magnetic field

The Swarm mission consists of three identical satellites launched by ESA in 2013. They are orbiting the Earth at altitudes of 300-530 km and are still in operation. They have mapped the Earth’s magnetic field with previously unseen accuracy. The mission has also produced a number of other scientific data.

DTU Space has been chosen to head the work of selecting new projects for the European Space Agency, ESA, which are to ensure that the large volumes of data from the Swarm mission are used optimally. It is the first time that ESA delegates this type of task.

The European Space Agency, ESA, has selected DTU Space to head the selecting of research-relevant topics and tendering out and concluding contracts concerning the exploitation of data from ESA’s successful Swarm satellite mission. It is the first time that ESA in this way asks an external partner to head the process of tendering out and approving projects that can benefit the research environment.

“It’s an innovative idea. We see it as a great recognition of our expertise and our efforts in this area that ESA has entrusted us the task of exploiting and spreading as many data as possible,” says Professor Nils Olsen from DTU Space, head of the Swarm DISC consortium working on exploiting the large volumes of scientific data from the Swarm satellites.

“So far, all ESA’s tenders have been prepared internally and have been subjected to internal assessments. But when it comes to data about the Earth’s magnetic field, ESA has now decided to delegate the task to us as external experts and manager of the Swarm DISC project to ensure the necessary insight when tendering out tasks and assessing and approving project proposals.”

Pioneering work for ESA
In the longer term, the aim is for this new procedure to be used for other ESA missions. DTU Space thus carries out pioneering work for the large European space agency which is working to adjust its research policy toward more task delegation.

"We see it as a great recognition of our expertise and our efforts in this area that ESA has entrusted us the task of exploiting and spreading as many data as possible."
says Professor Nils Olsen from DTU Space

The first projects are a number of small tasks concerning data products related to the Swarm mission. The four first tasks have been tendered out. They concern the development of a gravitational model, a climatological model of the currents in the ionosphere at high latitudes, a description of ‘auroral electrojets’, as well as a description of ionospheric irregularities and fluctuations—all based on Swarm data.

The projects are worth approx. DKK 750,000 which can be applied for by all of the countries participating in the ESA Earth observation programmes 4 and 5.

Successful mission
The Swarm satellites have mapped the Earth’s magnetic field with high precision. A number of other scientific discoveries have also been made on the basis of the mission.

Among other things, the researchers have used the Swarm data to identify major rivers of molten metal, Rivers of molten metal which move around in the Earth’s core. And to understand why GPS signals can disappear intermittently in areas close to the equator.

But there is much more new and useful knowledge to extract from the wealth of data still coming down from the three Swarm satellites. Therefore, four new tasks are now being tendered out.

During the spring, an open call will invite the research environment to contribute further with new ideas for products that can boost the research yield of the Swarm mission.

DTU Space has been involved in the Swarm mission from the outset. In close collaboration with ESA and a number of European partners, DTU Space has become a leading player in the mission which was launched into space in 2013 and is expected to be operational and functional for another 10-15 years.

Four Swarm DISC tasks tendered out

The purpose of the Swarm DISC project is to gather all post-launch activities for an ESA satellite mission at one research institution which then heads a consortium.

DTU Space has been given this task which involves the coordination of contracts and activities in relation to the involved players in the industry, in research institutes, and in organizations providing data-processing services.

Four new tasks have been tendered in this connection: 

• Swarm as a gravity field mission

• Strength and location of the auroral electrojets based on Swarm data

• Production and visualization of a climatological model of high-latitude ionospheric and field aligned current systems

• Orbit by orbit model of auroral electrojets as well as Ionospheric irregularities and fluctuations

The deadline for applications is April/May. Read more about the tasks on the Swarm DISC ITT website and register here to bid for the projects.

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