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Observing thunderstorms from above for more than 2,5 years

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Since April 2018, the ASIM payload is monitoring almost non-stop thunderstorms from the International Space Station, to catch rapid luminous events happening in the upper atmosphere. After two and a half years of continuous operations, the mission that was supposed to last 2 years, will probably go on until end of 2022. The observations and data collected by the two instruments onboard allowed the science team to already publish significant scientific papers, which made it to the front page of Science and Nature magazines.
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Catch rapid luminous events in the upper atmosphere

Originally planned to last for only two years, the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) payload onboard the International Space Station (ISS) has been monitoring thunderstorms non-stop for almost three years now, in an attempt to catch rapid luminous events happening in the upper atmosphere such as red stripes, blue jets or gamma ray flashes.

The two instruments onboard, one optical instrument and the other one looking in the Gamma and X-ray wavelength, collected successfully valuable scientific data, allowing the science team to already publish significant scientific papers in:

  • Science magazine: “A terrestrial gamma-ray flash and ionospheric ultraviolet emissions powered by lightning”
  • Nature magazine: “Observation of the onset of a blue jet into the stratosphere”

Towards another extension?

The ASIM payload is operating nominally without major anomalies so far. But the spots for external payloads on ISS are scarce and therefore shared with the international partners of the station. End of 2021, the ASIM payload will have to concede its spot to an American platform, and hence the mission will come to an end.

The CNES microsatellite mission TARANIS (Tool for the Analysis of Radiation from lightning and Sprites) was supposed to complement and pursue the ASIM objectives by continuing the observation of those transient events. Unfortunately, last November 2020, the Vega rocket transporting TARANIS to Sun Synchronous Orbit, failed shortly after launch. CNES is now looking for options to rebuild the satellite relatively quickly. In the meantime, ESA, pushed by a strong scientific community, is assessing possibilities to place the ASIM payload on another spot on the station, to keep the ASIM mission running until possibly 2023.

 

Want to know more?

  • Neubert, T., Østgaard, N., Reglero, V., Chanrion, O., Heumesser, M., Dimitriadou, K., Christiansen, F., Budtz-Jørgensen, C., Kuvvetli, I., Rasmussen, I.L., Mezentsev, A., Marisaldi, M., Ullaland, K., Genov, G., Yang, S., Kochkin, P., Navarro-Gonzalez, J., Connell, P.H., and Eyles, C.J. (2020). A terrestrial gamma-ray flash and ionospheric ultraviolet emissions powered by lightning. Science, 367(6474), 183-186. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6474/183
  • Neubert, T., Chanrion, O., Heumesser, M., Dimitriadou, K., Husbjerg, L., Rasmussen, I.L., Østgaard, N., and Reglero, V. (2021). Observation of the onset of a blue jet into the stratosphere. Nature, 589(7842), 371-375. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-03122-6
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Science magazine: “A terrestrial gamma-ray flash and ionospheric ultraviolet emissions powered by lightning” (10 January 2020)
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Nature magazine: “Observation of the onset of a blue jet into the stratosphere”