A test aircraft at the Armstrong Flight Research Center. (Photo: Paul Loewen)
A test aircraft at the Armstrong Flight Research Center. (Photo: Paul Loewen)

National USask-led satellite science mission receives $17 million in funding

SASKATOON – University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers have received $17 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) fund in support of the HAWC (High-altitude Aerosols, Water vapour and Clouds) mission. This will place USask at the forefront of space innovation and has the potential to revolutionize the way we understand and address climate change.

HAWC is the Canadian contribution to an international, NASA-led four-satellite Atmosphere Observing System (AOS) mission. The climate satellite instruments supported by USask researchers for the AOS mission will provide new data for scientists to better analyze, interpret and understand factors contributing to climate change.

“USask is leading the way in so many areas of important research,” USask President Peter Stoicheff said. “Our researchers are leading national and international endeavours into space with the potential to redefine how we study the causes and effects of climate change.”

The HAWC team is a Canada-wide group of researchers from 14 universities and numerous industry partners working in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) with funding from the Government of Canada, as well as Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the National Research Council of Canada.

“This funding speaks to the international-calibre research, scholarly and artistic work taking place at USask,” said Dr. Baljit Singh (PhD), USask’s vice-president, research. “Our researchers are both being and building what the world needs as we step further into the future of space and climate science.”

Dr. Adam Bourassa (PhD), a professor in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics in USask’s College of Arts and Science and part of USask’s Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies (ISAS), said the CFI funding helps USask establish the scientific leadership and the research of developing the HAWC technologies.

“It definitely is a real sense of satisfaction that (HAWC) seems to resonate across the country, and that the importance of the project is recognized,” Bourassa said. “It is a strong sense of validation for what we’ve done and what we believe in, what we’re proposing to do.”

Supported by the CSA, part of the HAWC mission consists of three cutting-edge climate science satellite instruments designed and developed by Canadian universities: the Aerosol Limb Imager (ALI), Spatial Heterodyne Observations of Water (SHOW), and TICFIRE (Thin Ice Cloud in Far Infrared Emissions).

The HAWC instruments are unique because they will take never-before-seen simultaneous measurements of aerosols, water vapour and cloud formations – like a “CAT scan of the atmosphere,” as Bourassa puts it.

Bourassa is the principal investigator leading work on the ALI instrument, while fellow USask researcher Dr. Doug Degenstein (PhD) in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics in USask’s College of Arts and Science acts as the principal investigator for the SHOW instrument. Dr. Jean-Pierre Blanchet (PhD) with the Université du Québec à Montréal is the principal investigator of the TICFIRE instrument.

Degenstein said one of the strengths of the Canadian team is its broad and talented group of researchers, as well as the uniquely trained team at USask.

“We are primarily involved in the instrumentation and the development of the data products, but we also contribute to climate modelling and the understanding of the measurements and the interpretation of the results. Our own engineering physics students and staff are ideally suited to contribute to HAWC over the entire mission lifetime,” he said.

Bourassa said the better the data from aerospace missions like these, the better understanding scientists will have of how climate-changing phenomena occur in Earth’s atmosphere – and that data will hopefully lead to more advancements in addressing climate change in the future.

“It’s really satisfying and exciting to see some of these ideas that we developed in Saskatchewan becoming part of a high-profile Canadian mission, with the CSA, NASA and all the international partners,” Bourassa said. “I feel like this is a chance for us to make really important measurements for the future that can help climate models to help the world with a challenging problem.”


For media inquiries, contact:Brooke KleiboerUSask Media Relationsbrooke.kleiboer@usask.ca306-966-1388