Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

Swedish Space Agency Rebooks Mats Satellite Launch on Rocket Lab Electron

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 16, 2022
Filed under , , , , , , , , , , ,
Mats satellite (Credit: Swedish Space Agency)

SOLNA, Sweden (Swedish Space Agency PR) — As a direct result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Swedish Space Agency earlier this year suspended plans to launch the Swedish research satellite Mats (Mesospheric Airglow / Aerosol Tomography and Spectroscopy) with a Russian launch vehicle. A new agreement has now been concluded between the main contractor, OHB Sweden AB, and American Rocket Lab for the launch of the Mats satellite from Rocket Lab’s launch base in New Zealand.

During the autumn, Mats will be transported to New Zealand and mounted on the launch vehicle that will place Mats in an optimal orbit around the earth for the research assignment. The first possible date for launching Mats is estimated at 1 November 2022.

Mats is a Swedish satellite project that will investigate waves in the atmosphere and their impact on the climate. This is done by studying variations in the light that oxygen molecules emit at an altitude of 100 kilometers, as well as in structures in the atmosphere’s highest clouds, so-called night-light clouds. Mats will be able to produce the first global maps that show the propagation properties of these waves in the atmosphere. With a tomographic analysis of the images, the researchers can create 3D constructions of the waves.  

Mats satellite to scale. (Credit: Swedish Space Agency)

Quick Facts

  • Name:  Mats – Mesospheric Airglow / Aerposol Tomography and Spectroscopy
  • Country:  Sweden
  • Size:  Like a dishwasher, 60 x 70 x 85 centimeters [23.6 x 27.6 x 33.5 inches]
  • Weight: about 50 kilos [110 lb]
  • Launch: Rocket Lab Electron from New Zealand
  • Orbit:  Solar synchrony at an altitude of 600 kilometers [373 miles]
  • Lifespan:  Approximately two years
  • Scientific initiator:  Department of Meteorology at Stockholm University, MISU
  • Research groups:  Department of Space and Earth Sciences, Chalmers
  • Space and plasma physics, KTH.
  • Builds and delivers:  OHB Sweden, ÅAC Microtec, Omnisys Instrument
  • Funded by: The  Swedish Space Agency
  • Satellite platform:  InnoSat

The satellite Mats will examine waves in the atmosphere

We can not imagine the water in the oceans without waves, in the same way waves also fill the air. These waves in the atmosphere propagate in the form of periodic changes in pressure, temperature and wind speed. They exist on many different scales from local disturbances to global movement patterns. New research has shown that these waves can link events in widely different parts of the atmosphere, and knowledge of the waves can therefore help us understand the development of our climate system. Today, there are many ideas about how waves can affect the properties of the atmosphere. In many cases, however, there is a lack of knowledge about how the waves propagate and interact. To move forward, theoretical ideas must be linked to observations. Mats gives us this opportunity by developing a global database (climatology) of wave phenomena in the mesosphere. It fits well that Mats focuses on the mesosphere. There are other satellite projects that can measure wave structures at lower and higher altitudes, and Mats thus fills an important gap in the exploration of the atmosphere.

Mats satellite diagram (Credit: Swedish Space Agency)

The assignment in more detail

In order to be able to register the waves high up in the atmosphere (in the so-called mesosphere and thermosphere) in three dimensions, Mats must measure two phenomena: night-shining clouds and atmospheric air light. This is done by photographing the cross-section of the atmosphere (atmospheric stripe) in six different wavelengths – two in ultraviolet (UV) and four in infrared (IR). The two UV channels will provide information about small-scale structures within a limited height area, by observing sunlight scattered by night-shining clouds. The IR channels provide information about a larger area by measuring so-called “air light” – light emitted by energy-rich oxygen molecules, which also provides information about the temperature of the atmosphere. 

The instrument uses a telescope consisting of three specially shaped mirrors to make observations. The light from the atmospheric edge is divided by means of beam splitters inside different channels for different wavelengths. The images are captured by advanced CCD sensors with electronics that allow flexible exposure and image processing. The telescopic optics and the layout of the internal instruments are carefully designed to attenuate the effects of stray lights. At the instrument entrance you also have a mechanical construction that will reduce the influx of stray light – a kind of sun protection. This is specially designed to be able to use the entire length of the satellite.

Mats satellite during assembly (Credit: Swedish Space Agency)

Mats platform

Mats is based on a satellite platform developed to handle a variety of types of scientific research in low orbit around the earth. In total, Mats weighs about 50 kilos and has a size of 60 × 70 × 85 cm. It is designed to be able to be launched as a co-passenger when launching larger satellites. In this way, the available volume of the launch vehicle for secondary payload is utilized in the best way. The size of the solar panel and the payload are two factors that drive the size of the platform. Since the satellite will be sent up to a so-called solar synchronous terminator orbit, the sunlight will shine on the same side of the platform all the time, which reduces the amount of necessary solar panels (to get enough power to power the satellite). This also provides more flexibility for the placement of the payload.  

We who work with Mats

The scientific initiator of Mats is the Department of Meteorology at Stockholm University (MISU) together with researchers at the Departments of Space and Earth Sciences at Chalmers University of Technology and Space and Plasma Physics at the Royal Institute of Technology. The satellite has been developed by OHB Sweden in collaboration with ÅAC Microtec, while the instrument has largely been developed by Omnisys Instrument. The project is funded by the Swedish Space Agency.

Questions and Answers

What is Mats?

A Swedish scientific satellite that will study the atmosphere’s highest clouds, so-called night-shining clouds, using an optical instrument.

What should Mats explore? 

Mats will examine waves in the atmosphere. Like the oceans, the air has waves, which give rise to movements that connect different parts of the atmosphere, such as the summer and winter hemispheres. With the help of modern optical measurement methods, Mats will be able to study these waves and for the first time show us what they look like globally in three dimensions.

What are night-light clouds?

It is the type of cloud that is at the top of the earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of about 80 kilometers. They consist of small ice crystals and are so thin that they are not visible during the day but only at dusk when they are sunlit long after sunset. More information 

What significance can the research from Mat’s observations have?

Today, there are many ideas about how waves can affect the properties of the atmosphere. In many cases, however, we lack knowledge about how the waves’ distribution and interaction take place. To move forward, scientific theories ideas must be linked to measured observations. Mats gives us this opportunity by developing a global database (climatology) of wave phenomena in the mesosphere. 

Why is Sweden investing in Mats?

The investment in Mats provides an opportunity for Swedish researchers to conduct high-class research in atmospheric physics, where Sweden has a tradition of being at the forefront. At the same time, it gives the Swedish space industry the opportunity to refine the knowledge to develop new and more cost-effective satellite projects. 

What are the expectations and what significance does the project have for the Swedish space industry?

By combining modern optical measurement methods with a modern satellite platform, we hope to be able to make a major contribution to research on the importance of waves in the atmosphere. With this, we want to provide a holistic view that focuses on connection processes between different parts of our climate system.

Who is behind the project?

The scientific initiator of Mats is the Department of Meteorology at Stockholm University (MISU). The satellite has been developed by OHB Sweden, ÅAC Microtec and Omnisys Instrument. Research groups, in addition to MISU, are the Department of Space and Earth Sciences at Chalmers University of Technology and the Space and Plasma Physics Group at the Royal Institute of Technology. The project is funded by the Swedish Space Agency.  

What are the biggest challenges / difficulties with Mats?

A major challenge for Mats is to distinguish the weak light signals in the mesosphere from the very strong light that comes from the sun or from the bright lower layers in the atmosphere. When it comes to the scientific results, a major challenge is to draw far-reaching conclusions about the global dynamics of the waves from Mat’s measurements of wave structures in the mesosphere. To achieve this, we will combine Mat’s results with results from other satellite projects. Computer-based model studies will also be very helpful. In other words, collaboration with other researchers will be very important, just as always in science.

When it comes to satellite development, a major challenge is to take advantage of the new technology covered by the New Space generation that has enabled a high-performance system at a lower price. Something that provides a good balance between design, price, performance and reliability.

How much does the project cost?

Cost SEK 140 million [USD $13.5 million] for everything, including development, platform, instruments, launch and operation / maintenance. 

Leave a Reply