Canadian imaging technology takes key role in science satellite mission

From: Canadian Space Agency

July 22, 2019 – Longueuil, Quebec

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the University of Calgary, along with other partners, announced that they will develop Canada’s contribution to the Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) mission. The mission is a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to study space weather, the phenomenon that causes the northern lights but can also cause disruptions and damage to technology.

ESA and CAS selected the SMILE mission – the proposal submitted by scientists from the University of Calgary – from among 13 scientific proposals. The Canadian-led science instrument, the Ultra-Violet Imager (UVI), is funded through an innovative business model that brings together funding from the CSA, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and Alberta’s Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism.

The CSA has awarded two contracts: one worth almost $11 million to Honeywell to design the UVI, and the second worth $1.5 million to the University of Calgary to design the UVI Science Operations and Data Centre.

Space weather can affect the performance of critical technologies and services both in space and on Earth, resulting in substantial economic impacts. Severe space weather events can disrupt radio communications and satellite navigation signals, damage electrical infrastructure and satellites, and even endanger trans-polar air travel. It is therefore important to try to understand space weather in order to limit its negative effects.

Canada is the country with the largest landmass under the aurora borealis, or northern lights, the most visible manifestation of space weather.

SMILE supports the Space Strategy for Canada, as it is a space science mission that aims to help us better understand our planet, our Sun and the radiation environment. SMILE will also contribute to making Canada’s use of space and ground infrastructure more robust against the adverse effects of space weather.

The Space Strategy reiterates the importance of space science and the broader space sector. It includes commitments to ensure Canada’s leadership in acquiring and using space-based data to support science excellence, innovation and economic growth, while at the same time positioning Canada’s commercial space sector to help grow the economy and create the jobs of the future.


“This mission will provide the data that researchers need to better understand space weather and the damage it causes. It will also allow governments and industry to better protect satellites and ground infrastructure such as electrical grids that are critical to serving the everyday needs of Canadians.”

– The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

“The SMILE international partnership represents a significant leap forward in our ability to observe and predict space weather. Dr. Eric Donovan’s scholarship in auroral imaging will be a significant asset to the CSA team, as they strive to forecast geomagnetic storms and protect global navigation satellite systems and communications satellites. The University of Calgary has contributed scientific instruments to over 20 space missions, and we are proud to advance our New Earth-Space Technologies strategic research theme with a role in the SMILE mission.”

– Ed McCauley, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary

“Honeywell’s space team is proud to once again build on our legacy of providing cutting-edge ultraviolet imaging technology for Canada to share with the world. This mission, to better understand the Sun’s impact on our environment, is essential to help mitigate disruptions to infrastructure and daily life.”

– Marina Mississian, Senior Director, Payloads, Honeywell Aerospace

Quick facts

  • The SMILE satellite is scheduled for launch in 2023, with an estimated lifespan of three to five years.

  • SMILE will carry four instruments: one from Canada, one from the UK, and two from China. Canada’s UVI instrument will observe the auroras over the entire northern hemisphere, even during daytime, for 40 hours at a time.

  • Canada and ESA have been collaborating in the space sector since the early 1970s.

  • This is the CSA’s first collaborative space science project with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

  • The Canadian contribution to SMILE will help sustain and grow middle-class jobs in the space sector, via Honeywell and its supply chain, as well as through training a number of highly qualified scientists and engineers at the University of Calgary.

  • Through decades of research, Canada has developed world-class expertise in remotely sensing the region of space where the auroras occur to understand the phenomenon and mitigate the damages on Earth.

  • Canada’s most recent space weather research mission, ePOP on CASSIOPE, was launched in 2013. ePOP is a national and international success with ESA now supporting its continued operation as Swarm Echo.

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