Spacewatch: ESA and China plan new sun-Earth mission

The European Space Agency has given the go-ahead to plans for a spacecraft to study the magnetic interaction between the sun and the Earth.

The mission, known as Smile (Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer), will be conducted in collaboration with China. It will be a follow-on to their previous joint mission, known as Double Star/Tan Ce, which flew between 2003 and 2008 and also studied the sun-Earth connection.

The interactions of this connection are responsible for “space weather”, which can affect the reliability of satellite services such as communications and navigation. Understanding more about the interactions will allow better preventive measures to be taken to ensure that the services are minimally disrupted in the future.

Smile will carry four instruments – two from Europe and Canada, and two from China. The UK Space Agency will lead the consortium building one of those instruments, an innovative x-ray camera that will provide the first images and movies at these wavelengths of what happens when electrically charged particles from the sun slam into Earth’s magnetic field.

The mission is scheduled for launch in 2023 onboard either a Vega-C rocket or an Ariane 6-2, from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.


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