U of S research is probing the depths of infinity, looking at clouds from both sides.

Space Research News


Who studies space at USask?

Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies (ISAS)

The largest and most comprehensive solar-terrestrial physics and atmospheric science institute in Canada. Founded in 1956, ISAS now counts more than 40 people among its ranks and colleages in Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, China, India, Australia, Africa, South America, the United States, and Japan.

Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN)

Founded in 1993, SuperDARN Canada, headquartered at USask, monitor conditions in the near-Earth space environment using five scientific radars in Saskatoon, SK; Prince George, BC; Rankin Inlet, NU; Inuvik, NWT; and Clyde River, NU. Each radar scans more than 4000 square kilometers every minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  SuperDARN Canada is part of a global network of scientific radar.

Gradient-free MRI in Space (Sarty Lab)

Focused on the development and application of new developments in MRI technology that will result in an MRI that is an order of magnitude lighter and cheaper than any existing MRI, driven by efforts to install an MRI on the International Space Station. Hand held MRI and an MRI on the Moon are the ultimate long term goals, with applications in small X-ray clinics, nursing homes, hospital the emergency and operating rooms, and deployed in remote rural and northern locations, developing countries, disaster and war zones. 

The human body, in space

Human beings living in space present unique challenges for human health -- we're engineering the medical tools that humans in zero gravity will need.

MRIs in Zero Gravity


Small steps in space science, giant leaps for human health on Earth

In the zero gravity of prolonged space flights, astronauts suffer loss of muscle and bone mass that mimics osteoporosis.

To address this problem, a University of Saskatchewan research team is building a portable MRI scanning device to monitor astronauts’ muscle and bone health on space missions. With a Canadian Space Agency grant, researcher Gordon Sarty is designing and engineering an ankle-sized MRI device for the International Space Station (ISS) by the early 2020s. The device will weigh only 50 kilograms and will be able to provide images of muscle and bone using novel radio transmitter technology.

Understanding bone loss and recovery processes will have applications for osteoporosis treatment back on Earth. The new technology also holds great promise for improving the health of people in rural or remote areas who have little access to medical imaging, as well as for possible use in ambulances, dental clinics, and operating and emergency rooms.

“A portable and less expensive MRI will have a large impact in the world,” said Sarty’s former PhD student Somaie Salajeghe who designed and wrote new software for the prototype, originally conceived of as a small wrist-sized MRI. “In some parts of the world, it’s too expensive to have MRIs.”

The new MRI for the ISS will also demonstrate technologies needed to build an MRI for a moon base in the 2030s.

Protein crystals in space

Protein crystallographer and Canada Research Chair in structural biochemistry Louis Delbaere (deceased) produced the first Canadian-led space-shuttle experiments on the space shuttle Discovery in 1990.  Delbaere discovered that protein crystals grown in microgravity may display more uniform shapes and produce better diffraction data than the best crystals of the same proteins grown by any method on earth.
Delbaere's lab was the first in Canada to crystallize a protein in space, and he was a key figure in advocating and helping to realize the building of a Canadian synchrotron, the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan.

Students at the final frontier

U of S students are forging ahead, fearlessly testing the limits of their -- and our -- knowledge.

The USask Space and Design Team (USST) is one of the many ways they are getting involved.


USask-led International Space Mission Training Program

Funded by a $1.65M NSERC CREATE Grant, the International Space Mission Training Program is a USask-led Canada-Norway collaboration that gives master's students both technical and professional skills to serve the space industry. 

Partners include University of Alberta, University of Calgary, Royal Military College, The University Centre in Svalbard, University of Oslo, University of Bergen, and University of Tromsø, supported by industry partners Magellan Aerospace and SED Systems.

Course work, plus the graduate-level research projects conducted through the program, is building toward a student-led Canadian-Norwegian space mission by 2025. Students take professional skills and technical courses at USask and Royal Military College, including a three-week intensive field school program in Kingston, Ont.  The program, led by professor Kathryn McWilliams,  is designed for master’s students, however PhD students are welcome to participate in any aspect of the training.

Canada-Norway Student Rocket Program (CaNoRock)

The Canada-Norway Student Sounding Rocket (CaNoRock) exchange program is a partnership between the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the University of Oslo, and the Andøya Space Centre in Norway.  Undergraduate students spend a week on site at the Andøya Space Centre, gaining hands-on experience at scientific rocket and payload instrument design. Watch a video about the last mission, CaNoRock 15

The Earth, from space

The world needs more and better information on how the stratosphere and the troposphere interact -- we're improving weather forecasting, air quality monitoring and climate models globally.

Measuring aerosols and ozone

Aerosol Limb Imager (ALI): Balloon today, satellite tomorrow!

USask's Aerosol Limb Imager (ALI), part of the Canadian Space Agency STRATOS Project, studies the climate from space. In August 2018, the device was tethered to a balloon as big as a football field and sent into the stratosphere, but tomorrow, it could be aboard a satellite.

Optical Spectrograph and InfraRed Imaging System (OSIRIS) on Odin

Credit: Canadian Space Agency

OSIRIS is a critically important USask-designed and built satellite instrument, deployed and currently in operation aboard the Swedish Odin satellite. It's a collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency.

The objective of the Odin mission is to provide new information on the extent to which humans are changing the atmospheric environment, specifically through the study of stratospheric and mesospheric ozone, focusing on the space between the highest mountains and the edge of space -- altitudes from seven to 90 km above the Earth.

OSIRIS has made important measurements of long-term change in the ozone layer and provided invaluable data on stratospheric aerosols - tiny sulfuric acid particles resulting from fossil fuel emissions and volcanic eruptions. OSIRIS aerosol data is in high demand by climate modellers, including by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

USask leads the production of world-class ozone data records for NASA's ozone profiling research instrument -- an unprecented move by NASA to adopt a data processing method developed by an external party.

Measuring water

A new, global perspective on water

USask's new Canada 150 Research Chair in Remote Sensing and Hydrology Jay Famiglietti discusses taking the 100-kilometer-view on fresh water availability around the world.

Modelling river ice

USask's Global Institute for Water Security (GIWS) professor Karl-Erich Lindenschmidt uses satellite and drone-based imaging to monitoring river ice processes and develop models.

Space, from the Earth

The world's communication networks are vulnerable to solar storms  -- we're leading the world to better understand electromagnetic fluctuations in the ionosphere.

Space Weather: Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN)

The space radar: 25 years of SuperDARN

The Saskatoon SuperDARN team likes to joke that some of its first radar transmitters were stolen by pirates. It’s almost true.

Twenty-five years ago, as the international SuperDARN collaboration was taking shape, the University of Saskatchewan team was tasked with building the transmitters for each country’s new radar sites.

Read the whole story.

What is a SuperDARN?

Pairs of high-frequency Doppler radars are used to measure geomagnetic conditions --ionospheric velocity, electric field patterns, and a map of voltage - using 15 radars across both the northern and southern hemispheres.  That data is matched with information gathered by satellites about solar winds - geomagnetic energy fluctuations from the sun - 1.5 million kilometers away.

In principle, each radar pair can measure a region of the ionosphere over 3 million square kilometers in size, and can do this for 24 hours each day.

In January 2002, there were 15 operating radars, 9 in the northern and 6 in the southern hemisphere. Substantial funding has been provided for SuperDARN by Canada, the United States, France, Great Britain, Japan, South Africa, Australia, and Italy. The ISAS team controls the Saskatoon, Prince George, Rankin Inlet, Inuvik and Clyde River radars, whose partners are the US-run radars at Kapuskasing, Ontario, and Kodiak, Alaska, respectively.

SuperDARN on Twitter


SuperDARN, as told in photos

These images and descriptions were submitted to the USask annual Images of Research  competition.  Some of the text has been modified for brevity and clarity.

The Auroral Radar - credit: Ashton Reimer,(Physics and Engineering Physics)

Ashton Reimer: The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, seen over the Saskatoon SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network) radar. On December 20th, 2015, a large geomagnetic storm produced this show, which was caused by the impact of two successive coronal mass ejections from the Sun. While storms produce beautiful aurora, they also produce adverse effects on airplane communications systems, GPS, and the electrical power grid. SuperDARN radars measure the velocity of the aurora, in a manner similar to a police radar gun, and this radar data is an essential tool used in space weather forecasting, which can predict the intensity of these effects. My PhD thesis discusses methods to improve the quality of and the uncertainty in SuperDARN radar data.

Peering through the clouds - credit: Kevin Krieger (Engineering, Physics and Engineering Physics)

Kevin Krieger: The SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network) research program is an international collaboration studying the Earth's ionosphere, near-Earth space, and the effects of the solar wind. The Prince George radar has been running since 2000. The radar runs 24/7 studying the movement and energy of particles that are way above the clouds, about 100-300 km above the Earth's surface. The radar can receive echoes from as far as 4000 km away! The radar is mostly operated remotely and is usually only down for a few days per year for maintenance. This ensures that it can keep running and recording data for studies that cover large time scale events and for studies of geomagnetic storms that create the beautiful northern lights.

Staying warm at the arctic radar - credit: Kevin Krieger (Engineering, Physics and Engineering Physics)

Kevin Krieger: Every year the Canadian SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network) engineers visit the group's remote arctic radar sites. These radars run non-stop and are only shut down for testing and maintenance on these annual site visits. Transmitters are just one piece of the critical hardware at a radar site - antennas and many other electronic components are important for both transmitting and receiving the radio signal. There are 35 SuperDARN radars worldwide that study the Earth's ionosphere and the effects of the solar wind that can cause the aurora. By keeping these radars running, researchers will continue to have access to datasets for studies of large time scale events as well as geomagnetic storms that create the beautiful northern lights.

Little Radar on the Prairie - credit - Marci Detwiller (Arts and Science, Physics and Engineering Physics)

Marci Detwiller: The SuperDARN (Super Dual Aurora Radar Network) research program is an international collaboration studying the Earth's ionosphere, near-Earth space, and the effects of the solar wind. The Saskatoon radar was one of the first SuperDARN radars built in 1992. The radar runs 24/7 studying the movement and energy of particles that are 100-300 km above the Earth's surface. It can receive echoes from as far as 4000 km away! The radar is mostly operated remotely and is usually only down for a few days per year for maintenance. This ensures that it can keep running and recording data for studies that cover large time scale events and for studies of geomagnetic storms that create the beautiful northern lights.

From Dawn to Dusk - credit: Devin Huyghebaert (Physics and Engineering Physics)

Devin Huyghebaert: The Sun is setting on a day of hard work constructing the Ionospheric Continuous-wave E-region Bi-static Experimental Auroral Radar (ICEBEAR) transmitter near Prelate, Saskatchewan. Once set up, the ICEBEAR radar will operate in the evening hours measuring the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. The signal transmitted from the antennas will scatter off the aurora and be measured at a receiver site north-east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Through ICEBEAR's use of modern digital radio hardware, it is possible to create high-resolution images of the Earth's lower ionosphere, helping researchers forecast space weather and better understand ionospheric plasma motion.

The home quarter - credit: Kevin Krieger (Engineering, Physics and Engineering Physics)

Kevin Krieger: A haze sets the evening mood at the newly constructed Ionospheric Continuous-wave E-region Bi-static Experimental Auroral Radar (ICEBEAR) transmitter near Prelate, Saskatchewan. During construction, tubular tower sections are erected and climbed in order to put the finishing touches on the antennae. This provides a unique view during the beautiful, hot, hazy days of late harvest in South-West Saskatchewan.

Eyes on the

living skies

Built in two-phases between 1928 and 1930, the USask observatory houses a 3-meter-long refracting telescope with 6-inch diameter lens.

The observatory is open year-round on Saturday nights so members of the public may view celestial objects through the telescope. 

On clear nights, staff will point the telescope at seasonal objects in the sky. Planets, nebulae, star clusters, galaxies, and even comets can be viewed at the right times of the year. On cloudy nights, staff present an educational slide show depicting objects in our solar system, galaxy, and beyond.

The observatory also features a small museum with a tour of our solar system. Exhibits also highlight the history and fundamentals of Astronomy, and there is even a display on black holes!