University of Leicester receives major award for leading role in new space science mission: SMILE

Posted by ap507 at Oct 31, 2017 09:37 AM |
Leicester leads on building science instrument for international solar-terrestrial and space weather mission

Issued by University of Leicester on 30 October 2017

Cut-away of the Soft X-ray Imager (SXI) being developed at the University of Leicester for the SMILE mission available here:

UK academic institutions including the University of Leicester will lead an international solar-terrestrial and space weather mission, taking on the development of a major science instrument thanks to funding from the UK Space Agency.

An initial £3 million award will support academics working on SMILE (the Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer), a European Space Agency (ESA) science mission, being delivered jointly with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and due to launch in 2021.

SMILE will address fundamental gaps in knowledge of the solar-terrestrial relationship by providing, for the first time ever, global imaging of the Earth’s magnetosphere and its dynamic response to solar wind – charged particles streaming from the Sun.

The magnetosphere is a vast region around our planet that protects us from solar wind and cosmic particle radiation. The Earth’s magnetosphere is the strongest of all the rocky planets in our solar system and its protective role is thought to have played a key part in the Earth’s habitability.

SMILE will provide a step change in understanding its behaviour, and will serve a broad range of research communities in which the UK is world leading, including solar and fundamental physics heliophysics, and planetary sciences. SMILE will also provide crucial improvements to the modelling of space weather, which is recognised in the Government’s National Risk Register as a key disruptive threat to UK national technological infrastructure.

The UK Space Agency’s £3 million investment package supports three UK academic groups for the next two years, and it is planned that this will be extended to support the mission throughout its development. It will deliver the overall scientific leadership role with Prof Graziella Branduardi-Raymont, from the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

The majority of the funds will directly support the design and build of the mission’s most innovative science instrument, the SXI (Soft X-ray Imager), led by Dr Steven Sembay, from the University of Leicester. The SXI is a multi-national collaboration involving the University of Leicester as the project lead, UCL and the Open University within the UK, and several international partners from Europe, China and the USA.

Dr Steven Sembay, from the University of Leicester Department of Physics & Astronomy, said:  “The SMILE mission represents a truly cross-disciplinary enterprise; SMILE’s science goals are within the sphere of solar-terrestrial physics whereas the SXI instrument was borne from a long heritage at the University of Leicester in astrophysics and X-ray astronomy extending back over 50 years. It is a great example of the integrated approach to research being adopted at Leicester.”

The SXI uses an innovative lightweight X-ray mirror technology that has been developed in partnership with Photonis S.A.S. of France. It is one of several instruments that will benefit from this technology.

Professor Mark Sims Director of the Space Research Centre (SRC) at the University of Leicester said: “This project continues the use of innovative technology and engineering at Leicester to deliver world-class science.”

Dr Paul Drumm, the SRC’s senior project manager, said: “The funding news is wonderful: the Space Research Centre’s world leading expertise in light-weight X-ray optics is being used again to deliver a state of the art instrument.”


Note to Newsdesk:

For interviews please contact Dr Sembay


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