Canada Joins European and Chinese SMILE Space Weather Mission

The Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) mission illustration. Credit: ESA.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced yesterday that it had formally agreed to join the European and Chinese Solar wind-Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) mission.

That mission, which will study the interaction between the solar wind with the Earth’s magnetosphere and was approved by the European Space Agency (ESA) this past March.

The SMILE spacecraft.
The SMILE spacecraft. Credit: ESA.

The mission go ahead comes after over four years of preparation including an initial study in 2015. At that time, NASA was also considering participating in the mission. This would have been problematic as U.S. lawmakers passed a law forbidding bilateral cooperation between NASA and China. China’s participation is through its Chinese Academy of Sciences .

With NASA not participating, an opportunity came about for Canada to play an important role. This mission also marks the first time Canada has collaborated with Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) on a space science project.

The spacecraft will have four instruments, two contributed by China, and one each from Europe and Canada.

The instruments are;

  • The Canadian Ultra-Violet Imager (UVI) will study global distribution of the auroras.
  • An innovative wide-field Soft X-ray Imager (SXI), provided by the United Kingdom Space Agency and other European institutions, will obtain unique measurements of the regions where the solar wind impacts the magnetosphere.
  • And two Chinese instruments, the Light Ion Analyser (LIA) and Magnetometer (MAG), will measure the energetic particles in the solar wind and changes in the local magnetic field.
Ultraviolet Imager (UVI). Credit: ESA.
Ultraviolet Imager (UVI). Credit: ESA.

According to the CSA “space weather can affect the performance of critical technologies and services both in space and on Earth, resulting in substantial economic impacts. Severe space weather events can disrupt radio communications and satellite navigation signals, damage electrical infrastructure and satellites, and even endanger trans-polar air travel. It is therefore important to try to understand space weather in order to limit its negative effects. Canada is the country with the largest landmass under the aurora borealis, or northern lights, the most visible manifestation of space weather.”

The Canadian UVI instrument was proposed by researchers from the University of Calgary and it was selected by ESA and CAS from a pool of 13 scientific proposals.

According to the news release issued by the CSA “the Canadian-led science instrument, the Ultra-Violet Imager (UVI), is funded through an innovative business model that brings together funding from the CSA, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and Alberta’s Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism.”

It further states that “the CSA has awarded two contracts: one worth almost $11 million to Honeywell to design the UVI, and the second worth $1.5 million to the University of Calgary to design the UVI Science Operations and Data Centre.”

Ed McCauley, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calgary said “the SMILE international partnership represents a significant leap forward in our ability to observe and predict space weather. Dr. Eric Donovan’s scholarship in auroral imaging will be a significant asset to the CSA team, as they strive to forecast geomagnetic storms and protect global navigation satellite systems and communications satellites. The University of Calgary has contributed scientific instruments to over 20 space missions, and we are proud to advance our New Earth-Space Technologies strategic research theme with a role in the SMILE mission.”

Note: If you’re interested in Space Weather updates follow SpaceRef’s Space Weather Twitter account at

Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) mission definition study

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

Leave a Reply