Technical University of Denmark: Denmark’s large space project is extended

According to the plan, it was time to dismantle the Danish space observatory ASIM (Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor) from the international space station ISS and push it down into a lower orbit, where it would burn up in the atmosphere.

But now, the European Space Agency (ESA) has chosen—together with the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation—to extend Denmark’s most ambitious space mission to 2025. The extension is due to good research results that can be used to reduce uncertainties in climate models and provide better predictions of the future climate.

Since its launch in 2018, ASIM has—in fact—been measuring thunderclouds and their electrical activity globally. It has given DTU researchers a data basis for understanding how lightning is created, and how thunderstorms affect the stratosphere and climate. The results have led to articles and front pages in Science and Nature, which are some of the world’s leading scientific journals.

“ASIM has exceeded our high expectations. The instruments still work impeccably, so we’re extremely pleased that the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation and ESA want to give ASIM a few more years in space,” says Torsten Neubert, Senior Executive Officer at DTU Space, who is scientifically responsible for ASIM.

Observatory to look towards the horizon
The Danish-led project is anchored in the European Space Agency (ESA). DTU Space got the idea for the observatory and is responsible for the scientific management, whereas the Danish company Terma handles the technical project management.

Until now, ASIM has been pointing down towards Earth from its position on the Columbus module on the outside of the ISS, 400 kilometres out in space. From this position, the instruments can observe energy discharges from lightning and related processes in connection with thunderstorms.

Now the observatory is being moved to another location on Columbus and will look toward the horizon in the future. The new perspective makes it possible to determine whether the clouds reach into the stratosphere, and how high above the clouds the so-called blue lightning strikes reach. This was the same type of lightning that ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen filmed from the space station in 2015.

The Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science has supported the creation of the ASIM instrument, including through a special contribution from the globalization pool in the period 2009-2012 for climate initiatives in ESA programmes.

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