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The Sky is no Limit


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The Sky is no Limit

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Birkeland’s experiments,developed at the University of Oslo with subsequent aurora observations from North Norway sparked great interest for aurora studies internationally, It was later that scientists found that the northern island of Andøya was the perfect location for aurora research – as it is located directly under the aurora.

Research and observation activities developed over time that now include the ALOMAR observatory with its powerful laser beams that study the earth’s atmosphere, hugely important in these days of climate change. In these days of radical changes in our environment, Norway’s atmospheric study becomes even more critical as we move deeper into the 21st century.

Andøya is also the host to a rocket range that has launched more than 900 rockets since its opening in 1962, making it the most important launch site in the world that is located outside of US territories. Scientists from different countries utilize Andøya as an important base for rocket activities as well as studies of the northern lights and atmospheric conditions.

The Tracking Begins

It was in 1957 that the Harestua facilities, located just north of Oslo, were established with equipment that included several solar and radio telescopes.  Asked by the US Air Force to dedicate one of the telescopes to satellite tracking, the Norwegians took the opportunity to begin what would lead to a long collaboration with the USA as well as other countries in utilizing satellites.

Norway’s far-north location makes it perfect for downloading data from polar orbiting satellites, and the country is a world leader in this field. Expertise is important in a satellite dependent world that includes such services as data- and telecommunication, rescue operations, navigation, television services, weather forecasting, television broadcasting and environmental surveillance.

Space for Growth 

The link between industry, research, and the Norwegian Space Centre is a close one. The NSC is the national space agency in Norway, organized as a government agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Working closely with research, government, education and business, the NSC promotes the development, coordination and evaluation of national space activities to maintain its leading international position in space-related activities.

International cooperation has a long history with the NSC, Norwegian scientists and Norwegian companies, often participating in many of NASA’s science missions such as SWIFT, AQUA, TRACE, and SDO to mention a few. Norway is also heavily involved the hugely complex ESA “Cluster” project – a fleet of spacecraft flying in formation through the Earth’s magnetosphere.

In this Norway Communicates essay we can only touch the surface of the depth of space and NSC activities. To learn more – much more – see the Norwegian Space Centre website.

Here is just a few examples of the direct link to space from Norway:

Life on Mars

With each passing year the evidence that there is life on Mars grows ever stronger, including the 2010 discovery that water favorable to life has formed more recently than previously thought. Norwegian Defense and Research Establishment (FFI) has developed the ground radar to be used in the upcoming Mars project ExoMars, (Exobiology on Mars) a European-led robotic mission toMars currently under development by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

With launches planned in 2016 (with a short life static lander test in 2017) and 2018 (with a landing in 2019 that will put a “rover” on the red planet. FFI’s radar will chart ice and water to a depth of three meters under the surface of the planet. Perhaps the ultimate proof of life beyond our planet is in our near future after all.

Here comes the Sun

Today, many of the most advanced solar observation activities take place on satellites, and the Norwegian space effort has often played an important role. These activities have included the solar telescope HRTS (High Resolution Telescope and Spectrograph) that was aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1985, and the landmark SOHO mission, the satellite based solar observatory that included 12 different telescopes launched in 1995.

One key NSC employee, Pål Brekke, played a central role in the SOHO mission as Deputy Director for a six-year period. According to Brekke, “The SOHO mission has been a joint international collaboration between ESA and NASA and is credited with discovered approximately 2000 comets thus far – and in 2009 received funding to continue the mission until at December 2012. So we believe that more discoveries are in the future for this important project”.

Pass the Fresh Vegetables, Please

When future space travelers are hurtling towards their destination, they are likely going to need something more than freeze dried food, especially given the length of their journeys (for example – over 200 days to Mars at current speeds). This makes experiments in growing plants in outer space not only interesting – but also necessary for survival on longer space flights.

The International Space Station contains a number of mini-greenhouse plant cultivation units developed by the Norwegian company Prototech, work that was done in cooperation with the Norwegian University of Technology and Sciences (NTNU). Everything that that is undertaken – water, nutrients, light, temperature – in these “mini greenhouses” (formally called the European Modular Cultivation System) is controlled and operated by the Norwegian User Support and Operation Center at the NTNU’s Plant Biocentre.

The Historic Moon Landing – on Titan

Test equipment for the historic landing of the spacecraft Huygen on Saturn’s moon Titan, delivered by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace (KDA). The Huygens probe was an atmospheric entry probe sent to Saturn‘s moon Titan as part of the Cassini-Huygens mission.  Launched from earth in 1997, the spacecraft landed on January 14, 2005 – the first landing ever staged in the outer solar system. The Huygens sent active data for approximately one and a half hours after landing – and to this day remains the most distant landing of any spacecraft that has been launched from our planet.

Strange Apparitions & Violent Explosions

Thunderstorms are much more complex than we had ever thought possible, including “Sprites”, huge electrical discharges occurring high above a thunderstorm cloud that take on often eerie shapes and lighting effects. Even higher up, “Elves” make their appearance as dim and expanding glow – often 400 kilometers in diameter – that last for just one thousandth of one second.

Strange and beautiful, these apparitions have long deserved closer study, and now they will get it.The University of Bergen and GMI (Gamma Medica IDEAS) are currently developing a camera for a new ASIM (Atmosphere Space Interaction Camera) instrument that will be placed underneath the International Space Station with the goal of more closely studying these atmospheric phenomena.  GMI was also instrumental in the development of the X-ray camera aboard SWIFT, the satellite designed to study the most violent explosions in the universe – gamma bursts.

The Dawn of Time

There is little that stimulates the imagination as much as the night sky and the mysteries held there – such as the “Big Bang” and the dawn of the universe. The Big Bang theory states that the original universe, dense and hot, expanded rapidly and suddenly beginning 13.7 billion years ago – then beginning to cool in a process still continuing to this day. 

There is still cosmic radiation left over from all of that activity – and the ESA mission “Planck” is studying that radiation. A space observatory launched in 2009, Planck is using solar panels delivered by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace (KDA). Some of the most fascinating secrets of the universe are slowly being uncovered, and the Norwegian space effort is an integral part in many of these activities.

Stay Tuned – More to Come!

The ideas and knowledge gained from the Norwegian Space Centre’s work in cooperation with Norwegian government and industry has laid the groundwork for a strong space effort that draws upon international cooperation to explore the last frontier of space.

Stayed tuned to the NSC and Norway Communicates for future updates and information about the exciting developments on many levels within the space industry here in the country.

Source: Norway Communicates

Published: September 22, 2019