Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summer School Alpbach 2013: "Space Weather: Science, Missions and Systems"

It has been a hard 10 days, these last two weeks, when I was playing tutor at the  Summer School Alpbach 2013.

On Monday 16 July a group of 60 European students arrived in Alpbach (Tyrol, Austria) to learn about and work on the topic of Space Weather. Split into four groups (Red, Green, Blue and Orange) they were subjected to a rigorous program of lectures in the morning and workshops in the afternoon and evening (and ultimately in the night). The lectures varied from Solar Physics and Space Physics to Satellite Mission Design and Risk Management. After the first full day of lectures and a nice BBQ, the different groups sat together and got acquainted with each other. But then after the second day of lectures the real work started, each group sat in its own classroom and had to come up with ideas for a Space Weather Mission for ESA.

Needless to say that it was arranged by the organizer of the summer school that I was given Team Orange as science tutor together with Jaan Praks as an engineering tutor.On Tuesday afternoon Peter Falkner presented the different groups and "my" team (names listed below)  knew it was doomed to spend the rest of the time with the weird guy with the orange hat.

After the common dinner at Böglerhof, we went down to the school again to start thinking about a project. Just let your imagination flow and see what comes out. Various ideas were presented, from having electric sails in a constellation along the Parker spiral; a set of satellites flying from Earth to Mars, staying there for a while and then come back to Earth to measure the total dose of radiation that astronauts; a constellation of 4 spacecraft around the Sun near Venus's orbit to scan for Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) - but there we were "outbid" in the end by Team Blue who proposed six! - and a closer to Earth project to study the influence of the Sun on the Earth's thermosphere and ionosphere.

Adonis stands for
"Atmospheric Drag, Occultation 'N' Ionospheric Scintillation."
After a lot of discussions, and a bit of restriction from the Summer School Jury (no solar or electric sails) it was decided that we would work on the last project and thus on Wednesday evening, just before dinner, when Jaan and I were in the Tutor Meeting (or the beer party as the team used to call it) the project that would eventually become the Adonis Mission was chosen.

Deep Thought:
not only a computer,
but also a state of mind
in Alpbach
Here Team Orange tries to come up with a mission to investigate the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere. If the energy input of the Sun into the Earth's systen changes (e.g. during a strong solar flare or the impact of a CME on the magnetosphere) then the characteristics of the thermosphere and ionosphere are changed. An example is the drag of the atmosphere on satellites, which increases strongly with solar activity. During the Halloween magnetic storm the International Space Station dropped suddenly 15 km because of the increased drag on it by the atmosphere. Another example is the loss of signal with e.g. GPS satellites or loss of communication because of changes in the ionosphere.

Three bottles of
"Alpbach Beer" cooling
for the final celebration.
To investigate these topics, two satellites in Low Earth Orbits (LEOs) were proposed, in elliptical polar orbits, which would measure the drag on the satellite with an accelerometer and indirectly measure the electron content of the ionsphere through measuring the signals from GPS and other spacecraft (occultation) and signals from ground stations (scintillation). And not to be overly ambitious, Team Orange decided that this should be measured over a full solar cycle. The team worked hard and late (0130 CEST was considered early in more ways than one). The reason for working so hard (apart from it being so much fun): Wednesday evening at midnight the project consising of a 10 page document and a one hour presentation should be delivered to the jury, including the laptop from which the presentation would be projected. This great team did it with time to spare! 2350 CEST everything was delivered, just sligtly behind Team Red, who came in first (congrats to them). Time to celebrate! Open up the sligtly cool bottles of Alpbach beer.

Michaela Gitsch, blindfolded, draws
the next presenting team to from
the box, helped by
Michel Jakob (l) and Peter Falkner (r).

On Thursday was the big event, when all teams would have to present their projects in front of all other teams and a distinguished jury. Michaela Gitsch drew - blindfolded - the team that was to come up and speak. Team Orange was drawn out of the box just after lunch, to present as third team. They did a great job at presenting, keeping within time and answering the questions from the jury very well. Some jury members were skeptical, but that did not waver Team Orange, and after talking to a skeptical jury member, they even got the advise to pursue a publication on the topic, so it can't have been that bad, eventually.

Half of Team Orange
at the Grand Dinner
That evening after the Grand Dinner, the Oscars for the projects would be presented by the president of the jury Roger Bonnet (do you know about reconnection?) with the following result:
  • Best Science Definition: Team Green
  • Best Technical Case: Team Red
  • Head Tutor - Steepest Learning Curve: Team Blue
  • Most Competitive: Team Orange
  • Best Presentation: Team Green
Roger Bonnet just handed
the Oscars to Team Orange
So  I must say I am very pleased with the result that Team Orange achieved, because being "most competitive" means you are most likely to get funded and to fly. And thus, following the Oscar tradition (even though I did not get one) I would like to thank the following people:
  • Martina Edl
  • Francesco Gini
  • Linn-Kristine Glesnes Odegaard
  • Nina Magnet
  • Jedrzej Gorski
  • Sebastian Hettrich
  • Yann Kempf
  • Nikolaos Perakis
  • Owen Roberts
  • David Sarria
  • Maximilian Schemmer
  • Stefan Schindler
  • David Steenari
  • Jaroslave Urbar
  • Melinda Verebelyine Dosa
AKA TEAM ORANGE, who I encourage to try and finish a full paper on this interesting topic (I will give full support there). Thanks for a wonderful two weeks, and naturally also thanks to my co-tutor Jaan Praks
Last impression of the classroom
with Jaan sitting in the middle
Me, Peter Falkner and Manuela Temmer

So, now it is time to rest and gather strength for the "Post Alpbach" from 9 to 13 December in Graz. The jury chose the challenging project of Team Blue (6 spacecraft at Venus's orbit monitoring the Sun for CME warnings) to be further developed by a select group of 15 participants of the Summer School. I am sure I will see some of Team Orange back again.

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