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Chinese space mission uses University of Sussex-designed software to study space weather

* 10 December 2003 *

Chinese space mission uses University of Sussex-designed software to study space weather

A Chinese space rocket incorporating software designed by University of Sussex space scientists is set for launch later this month.

The DSP-1 spacecraft, part of the Double Star Mission, is currently at the Chinese National Space Agency launch pad in south-west China, undergoing final tests prior to launch on 28 December.

On board is the UK Digital Wave Processing instrument, carrying updated software designed by the Space Science Centre at the University of Sussex. This instrument was originally developed for the highly successful four-spacecraft Cluster mission, launched in Kazakstan in 2000. The DSP-1 is to be sent into an elliptical orbit around the Earth's equator and will make measurements to complement those being made by the Cluster fleet orbiting over the poles of the Earth.

The Sussex software on board the DSP-1 spacecraft, based on robust parallel processing and signal compression, will look for specific patterns in the space plasma and measure microscopic disturbances. These disturbances can trigger global-scale instabilities, such as in the Van Allen radiation belts, and produce large fluctuations to the Earth's magnetic field (which usually shields us from solar eruptions).

"These magnetic storms cause navigation problems and can induce excess currents in power lines, causing wide-scale electricity-grid blackouts," explains Dr Tobia Carozzi from the Space Science Centre. "The associated energetic solar particles can also cripple expensive Earth-orbiting communications satellites, rendering them useless."

The success of Cluster paved the way for the Double Star Mission and was recognised by a recent three-year extension to the Cluster mission lifetime, coupled with a doubling of the data rate. The Space Science Centre has already received in excess of £2 million in research funding for work on Cluster.

Dr Andy Buckley comments: "Cluster has been sending information for over three years now from the harsh, remote environment of space, despite several times being engulfed by high-energy radiation from solar storms. Although this causes hardware damage to the processors, the robust software recovers the instrument back to its full operating mode. DSP-1 will be a welcome addition to the existing fleet of spacecraft."

As well as being involved in remotely operating the orbiting instruments for Cluster and DSP-1, the Space Science Centre also receives all the full high-resolution data transmitted back to Earth. This is stored online at the University on multi-terabyte servers and sophisticated IT systems are developed at Sussex to process the vast amounts of data obtained.

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