Countdown to Denmark’s biggest European space project

Wednesday 14 Sep 16


Torsten Neubert
Chief Consultant
DTU Space
+4545 25 97 31
The instruments for the largest Danish-led European space project to date, ASIM (Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor), are now being dispatched from Denmark, before installation on the international space station ISS in a year‘s time. Here, they will observe the gigantic lightning and high-energy X-ray radiation above the clouds.

For the first time ever, Danish researchers are now presenting the climate observatory instruments which will be mounted on the International Space Station (ISS) in September 2017 . The instruments will observe the gigantic lightning and high-energy X-ray radiation above the clouds.

ASIM, the largest Danish-led European space project since Ørsted, consists of two main instruments for measuring light and X-ray radiation from a thunderstorm. ASIM’s aim is to provide the researchers with greater insight into the newly discovered giant lightning bolts—called sprites, blue jets, and giants—that form above thunder clouds and which can reach the ionosphere at a height of 80 km. A further project aim is to measure the high-energetic X-ray radiation, which is a source of antibodies (positrons) in the space around Earth.

Greater understanding of giant lightning bolts
The observations will give the researchers a greater understanding of lightning strikes above the clouds, building on the THOR research project (named after the Norse god of thunder) led by DTU. On his THOR space mission, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen filmed a blue jet lightning bolt that struck upwards in the stratosphere several times in quick succession, and blue flashes dancing across the top of the clouds.

“Given Andreas Mogensen’s detailed observations, I expect a great deal from the ASIM project. I’m particularly interested in the measurements of the high-energy X-rays and in understanding the processes in the lightning charges that create them. I also expect to learn more about how thunderstorms affect the Earth’s stratosphere. The knowledge we acquire can be used to improve climate models and will ultimately tell us more about whether the oceans are set to rise by a half, one, or two metres this century,” says Torsten Neubert, Chief Consultant at DTU Space.

Ferrari of space instruments
ASIM has been realized under the auspices of the European Space Agency, ESA. Behind ASIM are DTU Space-which is responsible for scientific management and partial instrument development-and Terma A/S which heads the technical consortium. Several international companies and universities are also involved in the project.

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.

“ASIM is the ‘Ferrari’ of space instruments. We use the latest technology to detect high-energy X-ray radiation and to precisely determine its source. We have also developed a new, powerful computer based on a technology never before used by ESA,” says Torsten Neubert.

Over the course of the next year, the instruments will be mounted on a plate which will also serve as an adapter between the instruments and ISS. The instruments will then undergo a series of electrical and functional tests in Italy and Germany before being sent on to NASA’ s launch complex at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The instruments will be sent up to ISS on an unmanned Falcon rocket. Here they will be mounted on the Columbus module, where Andreas Mogensen stayed during his eight-day mission in space.

See launching, installation, and measuring principle.