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ESA selects THOR and 2 other M4 mission proposals for a study phase - BIRA-IASB is involved

10 June 2015 - In August 2014, a call for the fourth medium-size (M4) mission opportunity was issued in the frame of ESA's Cosmic Vision  Programme with launch foreseen in 2025. ESA received 27 proposals in response to this call, amongst which also THOR (Turbulence Heating ObserveR) in which the Space Physics division at BIRA-IASB is involved. After a thorough evaluation of the scientific and programmatic aspects of all candidate missions, THOR was recommended as one of the three mission concepts to proceed to a Phase 0 study, which is the first official  phase of a mission. In mid 2017, ESA will finally decide which of the three will go ahead.


The THOR mission

The science objectives of THOR are related to plasma turbulence, one of the most fundamental processes in the universe, but also one of the least well understood. Turbulence occurs over a very wide range of spatial scales and leads to the dissipation of energy, often resulting in non-equilibrium states. The two main environments in which plasma turbulence is studied are the solar wind and the magnetosheath plasma.

The THOR mission will use a sun-pointing spinning spacecraft, launched by an Ariane 6.2 rocket from Kourou around 2025. The nominal mission duration is 3 years. The satellite will carry a suite of 10 instruments for in-situ measurement of electric and magnetic fields and the characteristics of electrons and ions. The primary challenge is to acquire these data with very high time resolution; hence the need for appropriate instrumentation. THOR takes advantage of the experience obtained with other missions such as CLUSTER, resulting in a high level of technological readiness of the proposed instrumentation.

The Principal Investigator (PI) of the mission is Andris Vaivads of IRF (Institutet För Rymdfysik) Uppsala in Sweden.

BIRA-IASB’s contribution

To study the solar wind turbulence, a cold solar wind ion spectrometer called CSW is proposed by the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP), Toulouse (PI Benoît Lavraud) with significant contribution from BIRA-IASB (Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy), Brussels, with Johan De Keyser as co-PI. CSW will consist of two main units:

  • the detector unit
  • the electronics unit.

The latter will be provided by the engineering department of BIRA-IASB in collaboration with industrial partners.


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