The Mullard Space Science Laboratory, an outpost of University College London, is housed in a mansion near Holmbury St Mary in the Surrey hills. From 13 projects submitted to a joint venture between the European Space Agency and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, MSSL’s ‘Solar Wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer’ (SMILE) mission was chosen for further assessment. It aims to measure how the Sun influences ‘space weather’ and the Earth’s magnetic ‘shield’ and, if preliminary studies are favourable, is currently expected to launch at the end of 2021. Dr Graziella Branduardi-Raymont, UCL’s Professor of Space Astronomy, is joint Principal Investigator of the mission.
At Holmbury St Mary, the atmosphere’s scary –
They dabble in things you can’t see!
To this spooky old place come strange signals from space
That they say could affect you and me . . .
It seems there’s no knowing how the solar wind’s blowing
Or how it might trouble our tech.
Will it cause an aurora, or mess up your aura,
Or leave our poor planet a wreck?
These folk want to know all the answers, and so
They put up ideas and they won
The funding to do a study or two;
But there still remains lots to be done.
They need gear that’s exotic, sort of astro-robotic:
A magnetometer (for the Earth’s field),
X-ray and UV telescopes, so they’ll see
The effect on Earth’s solar wind shield.
Professor Raymont will list what they’ll want
To make such a project worthwhile.
But there is a price; so, to make it sound nice,
They’ve given it a name: it’s called SMILE!