Between 2018 and 2021, 12 research rockets from three countries was launched from Andøya Space in a coordinated effort to study cusp region space physics. The effort was coordinated in the Grand Challenge project Cusp. Now, the Grand Challenge continues with new projects, but what is the Grand Challenge?
‒ The idea behind Grand Challenge was actually created by myself and professor Jøran Moen from the University of Oslo, says Kolbjørn Blix, VP Sub-Orbital at Andøya Space. ‒ And the basic notion was sharing. If one research mission creates n number of research data, then five research mission should give you 5*n data. It is simple math, really.
‒ Each participant in a Grand Challenge project pays for one mission, share their research data, and in return gets access to the research data from all the other participants. Of course, the data set needs to be relevant, which is why we create these Grand Challenge projects focusing on a particular subject. By taking these independently initiated missions and coordinating them we saw a tremendous increase in scientific return, says Blix.
‒ We did the first Grand Challenge project, called project Cusp, in 2018, together with scientists from Norway, Japan and USA, says Blix. ‒ Now, the second project, called M/LT, is underway. And we’re busy planning the third, which is named Solar Max.
A project that was designed to advance the common understanding of cusp region space physics through coordinated experimental and theoretical research using ground based instruments, modeling, sounding rocket investigations, and satellite based instruments.
The cusp is the part of the Earth’s magnetic field that funnels down into the polar regions. The ionosphere is the upper part of the atmosphere. Here particles from the solar wind, trapped in the cusp, cause the aurora borealis.
Participants in the M/LT project studies the mesosphere and the lower thermosphere, which are layers in the middle atmosphere, using sounding rockets, balloons and groundbased remote sensing. They are especially looking at the potential impact small processes can have on a global scale.
Project Solar Max
With the next solar maximum imminent, project Solar Max aims to do a repeat of project Cusp, which was performed around solar minimum.
‒ International cooperation is very important in the Grand Challenge, says Blix. ‒ Scientists from three countries participated in the first project, and then from nine countries in the second project. Grand Challenge really has been a win-win situation for all participants, not only for the sounding rocket community, but also for the balloon and remote sensing communities.
‒ Every research platform has its advantages, but there isn’t one single platform that can do everything. For example, satellites can’t easily do in-situ measurements in altitudes below 300 kilometers. It is only by combining data from satellites, research rockets, balloons, and ground based instruments that you can get a complete overview of a physical process in the atmosphere, says Blix. ‒ And that’s what we’re trying to do with the Grand Challenge Initiative.