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Danish-led ASIM project is ready for launch

(21 March 2018 - Terma) At the private space company SpaceX, the final preparations have been initiated to make the Danish-led space project Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) ready for launch to the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch date is scheduled for Monday, 2 April 2018 at 16:30 local time from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is 22:30 Central European Time (CET).

“The ASIM project is the largest Danish space project ever developed. For Terma, it has been a very exciting journey to lead an international team of scientists and engineers who in the past 10 years have been involved in the development. We are now ready to launch the observatory to the space station”, says Carsten Jørgensen, Senior Vice President, Terma Space.

“We are looking forward to receiving unique scientific data. ASIM is equipped with technology which will also be used for future missions worldwide and will provide a good return on investments in Denmark. This project has shown that Danish industry together with universities and international partners can deliver unique equipment to be used in space”, says Carsten Jørgensen.

ASIM is an observatory, which will be installed on the European Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS). ASIM will be used to study high-altitude electrical discharges in the stratosphere and mesosphere above severe thunderstorms, the so-called red sprites, blue jets, haloes, and elves, and monitor X-ray and Gamma-ray flashes. A knowledge which can be used to identify climate processes in the atmosphere and improve climate models for Earth.

ASIM is an international project under ESA. The project is led by Denmark with Terma as technical prime contractor and DTU Space as lead of the scientific part. In addition, institutions and companies from a number of other countries participate in the project.

In recent months, a Terma team headed by project manager Ole Hartnack has been very busy preparing the ASIM Observatory for launch.

The instrument package that constitutes the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) is now securely in position in the Dragon Module and ready for launch to the International Space Station with a Falcon 9 launcher.

"We have had some hectic days and weeks in Florida, but the equipment has now been integrated and tested and is ready to be transported to the hangar where the Falcon 9 is being prepared for launch”, says Ole Hartnack, who has been working on the project together with Systems Engineer Dan D. V. Bhanderi during the last 10 years.

Dragon is a free-flying spacecraft that brings supplies and equipment to ISS. It is located at the top of the 70 meter high Falcon launcher, and it returns to Earth after delivering the load.

The load in Dragon is stored in two connected modules, partly in a cargo area that is under pressure and used for supplies that need to be inside the ISS, partly in an open cargo area that is not under pressure. Here are larger equipment and instruments positioned until installation outside the ISS. ASIM is now positioned in the open cargo area together with two other experiments to be launched to ISS. Getting ASIM positioned in Dragon has been carried out in close collaboration between Terma, NASA, SpaceX, and the European Space Agency ESA.

"We have been working on a very tight schedule to be ready for the mission. The integration of ASIM and the other elements in the Dragon spacecraft is precision work with very complicated lifts of both ASIM, the other instruments, and the Dragon modules. It requires high concentration to handle the very expensive and fragile equipment that must be completely intact before launch,” says Ole Hartnack.

ASIM will be launched from Cape Canaveral at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission is called SpaceX CRS-14. Both Falcon 9 launchers and Dragon modules are reused by SpaceX as the launchers return to Earth when the Dragon module is released and bound for the ISS. After a month at ISS, the Dragon module also returns.

Dan D. V. Bhanderi explains that the Falcon 9 launcher for the ASIM launch was in use for the first time on 14 August 2017 for the CRS-12 mission and that the Dragon spacecraft flew for the first time on 8 April 2016 to 11 May 2016 on the CRS-8 mission.

Chief Consultant at DTU Space Torsten Neubert who leads the research connected to the ASIM mission, looks forward to the launch of ASIM and to the new knowledge the mission will provide.

"ASIM is in fact the largest space instrument that has ever been built in this country. It has taken more than ten years to implement this amazing idea, and now we have almost reached the goal. More than 100 dedicated experts from Denmark, Norway, Poland, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Canada, and the United States have participated in the project. We look forward to reaping the scientific benefits of the great and hard work that has been put into development, design, and testing of ASIM", says Torsten Neubert.

Following the plan, the Dragon spacecraft will be joined with the Falcon 9 launcher about four days before the launch, and currently the launch date is scheduled for Monday, 2 April 2018 at 22:30 CET. However, weather, technique, and security challenges may lead to changes to the schedule, but the uncertainty will decrease as the time of launch approaches.

ASIM is developed under the auspices of the European Space Agency, ESA. DTU Space has the scientific leadership of the mission. The Danish aerospace company Terma A/S has the overall technical responsibility and the Danish Meteorological Institute supplies global meteorological data products and participates in the scientific studies. Additional partners are University of Valencia, Spain, University of Bergen, Norway, Space Research Center, Poland, OHB-Italia, Italy, and B.USOC, Belgium.