ESA’s observatory to monitor electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere is on its way to the International Space Station. The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor is riding in the Dragon cargo vehicle that lifted off at 20:30 GMT (16:40 local time) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.
A suite of instruments will search for high-altitude electrical discharges associated with stormy weather conditions. It is the first time that such a set of sensitive cameras, light sensors and X- and gamma-ray detectors are flying together to study the inner anatomy of luminous phenomena in Earth’s upper atmosphere and the link with bursts of high-energy radiation.
The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor, or ASIM, will be mounted on Europe’s Columbus laboratory, looking straight down at Earth. The crew will install it using the Station’s robotic arm within nine days of arrival.
From its unique vantage point 400 km above Earth, ASIM will be able to catch the gigantic electrical discharges, a phenomenon difficult to observe from the ground but previously studied from the Station by ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen in 2015.
This dedicated monitor will improve our understanding of the effect of thunderstorms on the atmosphere and contribute to more accurate climate models.