AGF-223 Upper Atmospheric and Space Physics: Observational techniques and instrumentation (15 ECTS)






April 15, 2024


August 05, 2024


December 13, 2024

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:None
Course Capacity Min/Max:6/13 students
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue, non-programmable calculator.

Course requirements

60 ECTS within the fields of mathematics and physics or a related discipline. The applicant must be enrolled in a programme at Bachelor level, or document that the courses are approved into the applicant’s current study programme.

The course should be combined with AGF-210 The Middle Polar Atmosphere.

Academic content

The course details instrumentation and techniques used in studies of the near-Earth environment. A basic introduction is given to the properties and processes in the near-Earth environment in the context of space weather, magnetosphere and ionosphere. Introduction to electronics and circuit design is also included. The remote sensing focus is on ground-based instrumentation for ionospheric processes, such as radars (HF and UHF), magnetometers and optics. The principles of spectroscopy, imaging and calibration of optical instrumentation are taught through lectures and laboratory work. The space instrumentation focuses on satellite, drone, and rocket-based instrumentation, such as Langmuir probes. Practical implications of making observations in-situ in the harsh environment of near-Earth space are discussed.  A particular focus of the course is on how the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) works and how space weather can affect the system.

The students will gain an understanding of the various stages involved in planning a space mission through an online module. The students’ mission is to build, test and calibrate CanSats according to a basic space mission procedure. The CanSats will be deployed from a drone to measure vertical profiles of the lower atmosphere. The flight campaign part of the fieldwork is undertaken in collaboration with Andøya Space Education.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • possess basic understanding of
    • the physical processes involved in the coupling between the solar wind, magnetosphere and ionosphere
    • ionospheric dynamics with a particular focus on the polar regions
    • how ground-based instrumentation are utilized in the field of space physics
    • GNSS and space weather influence on it
  • be able to identify the key elements of a satellite and rocket mission from the scientific aims and planning through to the data analysis and interpretation of results
  • understand simple circuits and circuit design
  • be able to design and build a simple spectrometer, calibrate the system and analyse its measurements


  • be able to construct a CanSat based on predefined mission specifications
  • be able to appraise and test the instrumentation in a controlled setting prior to drone launch
  • be able to perform data analysis and interpretation from multiple data sets taken both in-situ and from the ground
  • have gained familiarity and experience in working with optics, understand the functionality of the different components and investigate the limitations of the system
  • be able to build and use simple electronic sensors

General competences

  • work effectively as a part of a team to build, test and calibrate instrumentation for CanSat
  • be able to discuss and plan the various mission elements in terms of the science aims
  • be able to collect and organize data for a poster presentation
  • have an insight into the requirements of optical instrumentation

Learning activities

The course extends over a full semester. Initially, students attend four days of compulsory Arctic survival and safety training.

The lectures will be supported by interactive seminars where the students will learn to manipulate and combine datasets from a variety of instrumentation and relate them to physical processes in the near-Earth environment.

In small groups the students will be responsible for building, testing and calibrating a small instrument package for their CanSats, as well as collecting and analysing data from their CanSats. The results will be presented as individually designed posters. There will be an optical laboratory experiment where the students will build a basic spectrometer to investigate and discuss the principles of spectroscopy, imaging, and calibration.

The course also includes excursions to different ground-based research facilities nearby: the Kjell Henriksen Observatory, the EISCAT Svalbard radar and the Svalbard SuperDARN radar. Data from these installations will be used during the course. The course might also include an excursion to Svalsat 


  • Total lecture hours: Ca. 50 hours.
  • Total seminar hours: Ca. 50 hours.
  • Fieldwork / excursions: 5-8 days.

Compulsory learning activities

All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.

  • Fieldwork
  • Lab work


  • All assessments must be passed in order to pass the course.
  • Each assessment is graded, and subsequently combined into a single grade. Partial grades for each assessment will be available.
Percentage of final grade
Poster and oral presentation 40%
Written exam3 hours60%

Student life

AGF-223 fieldwork. Photo: Mikko Syrjäsuo/UNIS.
AGF-223 course work. Photo: Mikko Syrjäsuo/UNIS.
Drone used during the AGF-223 course at UNIS. Photo: Mikko Syrjäsuo/UNIS.
The sounding rocket ICI-3 was launched from Svalbard in November 2011. Illustration: Trond Abrahamsen/Andøya Space Centre
The sounding rocket ICI-3. llustration: Trond Abrahamsen/Andøya Space Centre.
Northern lights over the EISCAT antenna outside Longyearbyen, February 2017. Taken during AGF-304. Photo: Anja Strømme/UNIS
Northern lights over the EISCAT antenna outside Longyearbyen. Photo: Anja Strømme/UNIS.