The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected Airbus to build the European component of the Solar-wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE) satellite.

SMILE will be the first joint satellite mission between the ESA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). It is derived from the success of the Double Star / Tan Ce mission, which flew between 2003 and 2008.

SMILE aims to study space weather and will particularly look at the physics behind continuous interaction between particles in the solar wind and Earth’s magnetosphere, the magnetic shield protecting life on Earth.

The satellite mission is now in its fourth year of manufacturing, testing and integration of the payload module and the platform.

With a mass of nearly 2,200kg, the satellite will travel in an elliptical orbit around the Earth.

The spacecraft’s perigee will be positioned at a distance of 5,000km while the apogee will be situated as far as 121,000km, almost one-third of the distance to the Moon. This would give the satellite a prolonged view of Earth’s northern polar regions.

Airbus will build and integrate the payload module and the related instruments at its site in Madrid, Spain, while the platform will be built in Shanghai.

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A multinational team will test them at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre facilities.

The science payload consists of Soft X-ray Imager, Ultra-Violet Imager, Light Ion Analyser and the Magnetometer.

Airbus Space Systems Spain head Fernando Varela said: “Today, we are able to predict the weather on Earth, now it’s SMILE’s turn to help us understand space weather around the Earth.

“Probably one day, we will have enough data to be able to forecast dangerous solar storms that could disrupt our systems in space and on the ground.

“We thank the Spanish Administration for their decisive and continued support to scientific missions.”

Under current plans, a European Vega-C rocket or Ariane 62 will be used to launch the spacecraft in 2023.

Airbus has also built other missions to ESA such as Cluster, which studied the Earth’s magnetosphere, and SOHO that studied the Sun.