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






April 15, 2024


August 06, 2024


Autumn semester (August 6th - week 48-50) Exact exam/end date TBA

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:None
Course Capacity Min/Max:7/13 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 will detail the instrumentation and techniques used in the study of the near-Earth environment. A basic introduction will be given to the properties and dominant processes in the near Earth environment as defined in the context of this course (space weather / magnetosphere / ionosphere) as well as a basic introduction to electronics and circuit design (in the context of basic sensors used onboard drones). The remote sensing focus will be on ground-based instrumentation, used in the study of ionospheric processes, such as radars (HF and UHF), magnetometers and optics. Students will be taught the principles of spectroscopy, imaging and calibration of optical instrumentation through both lectures and laboratory work. The space instrumentation focus will be on satellite, drone, and rocket-based instrumentation such as Langmuir probes, magnetometers and particle detectors as well as discussing the practical implications of making observations in-situ in the harsh environment of near-Earth space. The course will make use of the guest lecturers’ hands-on experience with the ICI (Investigation of Cusp Irregularities) ionospheric sounding rocked missions. A particular focus of the course will also be Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and how space weather and the near-Earth space environment can affect these systems.

The students will gain an understanding as to the various stages involved in planning a space mission, with a focus on scientific payloads in cubesats and rockets. This will be achieved through an online module. The students will then be provided with a mission outline, which will provide the basis for their main fieldwork component: Obtain altitude profiles using a small instrument package (a “cansat”, which the students must design, program and build). The package will be deployed from a drone (~350 m) and also from a radiosonde balloon (~20 km altitude). Both the online module and fieldwork will be undertaken in collaboration with Andøya Space Education.  The course will also include an excursion to the Kjell Henriksen Observatory, the EISCAT Svalbard radar and the Svalbard SuperDARN radar where students will be introduced to the systems discussed in the course in a field setting.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • gain a basic understanding into
    • 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, such as HF and UHF radars, magnetometers and optics are utilized in the field of space physics
    • GNSS and the impact of space weather on these systems
  • differentiate between the different types of instrumentation and detectors utilized in space and rocket missions and be able to discuss the limitations and benefits of each
  • 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 the data output.


  • construct instrumentation (a cansat) to be flown on the drone, based on predefined mission specifications
  • 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 from instrumentation launched from their drone, previous rocket missions and a radiosonde balloon
  • gain familiarity and experience when working with optics, understand the functionality of the different components and investigate the limitations in the system
  • build and use simple electronic sensors in the field.

General competences

  • work effectively as part of a team to build and deploy instrumentation from drones and a balloon in the field
  • discuss and plan the various mission elements in terms of the science aims
  • collect and organize their data to present to their peers summarizing the mission aims, achievements and conclusions
  • gain an insight into the requirements of optical instrumentation.

Learning activities

The course extends over a full semester. Initially, students attend two 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. The students will also be responsible for designing, building and programming a small instrument package (a cansat) to be deployed from a drone at 350 m altitude. The students will also be responsible for collecting data from the drone experiment and a radiosonde balloon experiment. Both datasets will form the basis for the poster and oral presentation. There will be a one-week optical laboratory where the students will build a basic spectrometer and investigate the principles of spectroscopy, imaging, and calibration.

The course will also include an excursion to a variety of different ground-based installations: The Kjell Henriksen Observatory, the EISCAT Svalbard radar and the Svalbard SuperDARN radar. Data from these installations will be used in the course. The course might also include an excursion to SvalSat.


  • Total lecture hours: Ca. 70 hours.
  • Total seminar hours: Ca. 30 hours.
  • Fieldwork / excursions: 5 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.