Swarm - the European Space Agency magnetic field mission


Mission overview

Swarm is one of European Space Agency's (ESA) Earth Explorer opportunity missions which fall under the Earth Observation Envelope Program (EOEP). It was designed to measure precisely the magnetic fields generated from Earth's core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere. By studying the complexities of Earth's protective magnetic shield, Swarm will provide better insight into many natural processes; from those occurring deep inside, driving Earth's dynamo, to weather in space caused by the Sun's activity. It will also further our understanding of why the magnetic north Pole is constantly shifting, and why the magnetic field is weakening.

The Swarm mission is ESA's first constellation of Earth observation satellites. The three identical satellites will be launched together on one rocket from Russia into a near-polar, low-Earth orbit. This is a four-year mission.

Canadian involvement in the Swarm mission

Under the Canada-ESA Cooperation Agreement, Canada is a participating state in the EOEP and contributes financially to this program. This allows Canadian organizations to take part in the development and operation of ESA's EOEP missions, such as Swarm, by bidding and obtaining contracts for those missions. This collaboration also enables Canada's access to the data generated by those missions.

In the 90s, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) provided support to the University of Calgary for conducting ionospheric research which enabled the testing of an initial electric field instrument onboard suborbital rockets. After several years of work, the technology of the Canadian Electric Field Instrument (EFI) evolved to an advanced stage and is now ready to go to space and support the very demanding requirements of the Swarm mission.

Canadian EFI

Benefiting from the technological expertise in Europe and Canada, the Swarm satellites carry a comprehensive range of new-generation instruments to deliver highly accurate data to advance our knowledge of Earth's magnetic field. One of these instruments, the Canadian EFI, was built by the Canadian company COM DEV, under contract from ESA. Scientists from the University of Calgary, with financial support from CSA, worked closely with COM DEV engineers on the design of Swarm's Thermal Ion Imagers - a technology developed at the University of Calgary that produces 3-dimensional measurements of ionospheric flow velocities. The University of Calgary also developed an instrument simulator and carried out vacuum testing and calibration of the instruments.

The Canadian EFI, positioned at the front of each satellite, measures plasma density, and ionospheric winds velocity in high resolution to characterise the electric field around Earth. It carries a novel thermal-ion imager developed by the University of Calgary. The Swedish Institute of Space Physics developed a unique concept for the sensors in the Langmuir probe, which measures electron density, electron temperature and the electric potential of the satellite.

In addition to its role as lead scientific institute for the Canadian EFI, the University of Calgary, supported by CSA, will take an active part in the mission by ensuring their instruments are functioning optimally and are correctly calibrated. The Canadian scientists will use the measurements from the Canadian EFI to gain a better understanding of the processes that take place in the ionosphere; how space weather influences space plasma around Earth and how this can impact our daily lives.

The "Plasma Flow Velocity Mapping" software was developed by the Canadian Space Weather Forecast Centre, a division of Natural Resources Canada. This software integrates data from the Swarm mission with ground based measurements to obtain maps of the ionosphere that combine the large scales ground-based measurements with the precise, on-orbit measurements from the Canadian EFI. The Canadian research related to Swarm opens new facets of the ESA's mission whose goal was originally focused solely on the measurement of the magnetic field.

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