A 20-metre, four-stage Black Brant-12 rocket was sent 1,000 km up through space allowing the GEODESIC instrument to conduct its experiments on the Northern Lights before impacting into the Beaufort Sea. The entire flight took approximately 17 minutes to complete.
The Canadian instrument examined small pockets of energy in the Earth's upper atmosphere where the Northern Lights are found. These pockets can reach temperatures of over one million degrees Celsius, although the reason they exist is still unknown to scientists. Fluctuations in the Northern Lights are believed to have caused widespread power outages on Earth and disruptions of orbiting satellites.
Dr. David Knudsen from the University of Calgary is heading up the mission's scientific team. Both the GEODESIC payload and the rocket it was launched on were built by Bristol Aerospace of Winnipeg, under the direction of the Canadian Space Agency's Space Science Program. The rocket also carried instruments funded by NASA to measure electromagnetic fields and energetic charged particles. The scientific data collected by the flight will be analyzed by scientists at the University of Calgary, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Aerospace Corp. of California.
The Canadian Space Agency is committed to leading the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity. It manages and co-ordinates all of Canada's space activities and promotes the Canadian space industry among international partners.
The GEODESIC project is designed to discover how energy that creates the Northern Lights heats the Earth's upper atmosphere. To the naked eye, the area between the earth's upper atmosphere and the moon may appear to be empty, but it is actually filled with a gas made up of charged particles. For some reason, this gas directs energy from the sun into narrow tube-like pockets, some as small as 50 metres across. These pockets are instrumental in creating the beautiful displays observed from the ground. These tiny tubes of gas are heated to approximately one million degrees Celsius. GEODESIC will first detect these small, hard to find pockets of energy with two separate sensors and then make a full range of measurements of their characteristics.
GEODESIC also has a secondary technological goal, which is to test the advantages of state-of-the-art optical equipment for detecting charged particles in space.
GEODESIC is being launched from the NASA facilities at Poker Flat, Alaska, which was made possible through the involvement of the NASA-sponsored co-investigators. GEODESIC will be launched into the auroral zone and will reach an altitude of nearly 1000 km above the Earth's surface. Ground-based measurements will be made by scientists from the University of Calgary, Dartmouth College and the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
The measurements gathered by GEODESIC will address major scientific questions relating to the formation of the Northern Lights. The mission is aimed at taking a closer look at these important phenomena with improved electro-optical instruments at the same time as testing the usefulness of these instruments for a variety of future scientific missions.