The U-M Space Physics Research Lab is in the early stages of developing a ground-based observational platform for auroral and space plasma phenomena. Students on this team will design and create a multi-instrument observation platform, supporting space weather sensors, for observing upper atmosphere and space phenomena, including the aurora, to be deployed at the University of Michigan’s Peach Mountain observatory.
The Space Physics Research Laboratory (SPRL) mission connects the excellence of the University of Michigan to the development of innovative engineering solutions to explore extreme environments throughout the Solar System and enable transformative research. As part of this mission, SPRL is in the early stages of developing a ground-based observational platform for auroral and space plasma phenomena. This platform aims to measure the visible aurora, the magnetic field perturbation related to aurora, and other upper atmospheric values such as line-of-sight electron density. Weather instrumentation will be integrated to provide data quality information on the auroral measurements while yielding more meteorological and climatological data points.
Students on the UM SPRL team will design and build a ground based platform to support various devices including magnetometer & aurora measurement. This will involve designing a flexible platform supplying power, an environmentally robust housing system and a Data handling/comms system to collect data from installed sensors and communicate it to a base station. The student team will deploy the prototype at the Michigan Peach Mountain Observatory.
The developed platform will enable a new generation of auroral investigations based in Michigan. It will be employed to investigate localized geomagnetic disturbances (LGMDs), small-scale magnetic oscillations known to interfere with long distance power transmission. It will lead to the first comprehensive magnetometer array targeted towards LGMDs with a paired all-sky aurora camera. The findings from this work will be used to improve the Space Weather Modeling Framework, a code developed at the University of Michigan and used by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).
Minimum Viable Product Deliverable (Minimum level of success)
- Literature review of existing technology, best practice in weather proofing equipment, the constraints of collecting aurora data, and the needs of the users of the data. Review of available instruments and components.
- Develop formal requirements for the device concentrating on the subsystems and create initial prototypes, and integrate the system. The entire system will be housed in less than 1 cubic meter once deployed. It should be transportable to remote locations, potentially by foot. The total mass should not exceed 100 lbs with enough removable components such that no single piece exceeds 40 lbs.
- Power generation and handling – a system will utilize both grid power and on-site solar, as well as power management within the platform to protect sensitive instrumentation.
- Embedded Systems and Systems engineering – create an easily usable interface to incorporate a wide range of sensors. Initially, this must accommodate two magnetometers, a GPS antenna, and an all-sky camera.
- Environmental Packaging – the entire platform must be safe to deploy outdoors in Michigan for extended periods of time (instrumentation unit, plus any additional equipment solar panels, aerials, etc.). Instruments must be protected from interference from E/M, temperature fluctuations, etc.
- Command and Data Handling, and Communications – the platform will need to continuously collect data from sensors, provide some on platform pre-processing and communicate it to a remote base station.
- Collect stakeholder feedback on the prototype
Expected Final Deliverable (Expected level of success)
- Revise the prototype based on stakeholder feedback and verify the updated version against the requirements.
Stretch Goal Opportunities: (High level of success)
- Development of an enclosure to protect from the harsh environment.
- Development of image processing capability to detect on-going aurora activity and send an alert signal
- Integration of a StarLink transceiver to allow remote use where no cellular network is available
- Extension of the project to secondary and tertiary locations.
Mechanical Design (1-2 Students)
Specific Skills: Mechanical Design. Thermal modeling, environmental testing, innovative packaging creation for the tool. Design for Manufacturing. Validation testing.
Likely Majors: ME, ISD-MFG
Embedded Systems (2-3 Students)
Specific Skills: Develop a standard interface to connect power supply and data handling to a wide range of potential sensors
Basic Knowledge of embedded systems, signal processing, etc.
Likely Majors: CE, EE
Communications and Data Handling (2-3 Students)
Specific Skills: Develop communication system and on platform data handling. Knowledge of setting up microprocessor sample and data handling systems and connecting to wireless, cellular, or other communication protocols.
Starlink experience would be a plus
Likely Majors: EE, CE, CS, DATA
Power Generation (including Solar) and Handling (1-2 Students)
Specific Skills: Develop stable power supply (from grid and solar) to safely power instrumentation and Comms/Data Handling functions.
Likely Majors: EE, ISD-Energy Systems
Additional Desired Skills/Knowledge/Experience
- Experience with team based, large engineering projects
- Practical experience integrating subsystems
- Successful leadership skills
- Experience with sensors used in drones, robotics, space systems, or geosensing systems is valuable
- Programming with embedded microcontrollers
- Familiarity with cellular and satellite (StarLink) communications
- Familiarity with developing systems to survive cold and wet weather
Dr. Welling is an assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s department of Climate and Space. He has extensive experience investigating magnetic perturbations driven by the aurora. He has worked with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center and experts from the power industry to help mitigate the effects of space weather on high voltage power transmission.
Dr. Jon Van Noord
Dr. Jon Van Noord is the Associate Director of Education and Chief Engineer for Mechanical Systems at the Space Physics Research Laboratory (SPRL) and XTRM Labs. Originally from South Holland, Illinois, he earned his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan. He has worked on many space flight instruments and was responsible for the thermal design and analysis of the satellites on the CYGNSS Mission, and he also worked as a Research Engineer on ion thrusters at the NASA Glenn Research Center.
Project Meetings: During the winter 2024 semester, the U-M SPRL team will meet on North Campus on Wednesdays from 3:00 – 5:00 PM.
Work Location: The majority of the work will take place on campus in Ann Arbor. There will be opportunities to travel to the University of Michigan’s Peach Mountain observatory where the equipment will be deployed. The Peach Mountain Observatory is located about 30 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. (MDP will provide transportation)
Course Substitutions: CE MDE, ChE Elective, EE MDE, CoE Honors, SI Elective/Cognate
Citizenship Requirements: This project is open to all students on campus. International Students: CPT declaration (curricular practical training) is NOT required for this project because the sponsor is part of the University.
IP/NDA: Students will sign IP/NDA agreements to University of Michigan (can note a specific research project).
Summer Project Activities: There are summer employment opportunities with the UM Space Physics Research Lab on North Campus for this project or other current research projects. Interviews will take place in February 2024.