Federal Centre for Complexity and Exobiology

About COEX









Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB)

Address: Avenue Circulaire 3, 1180 Brussels, Belgium

Contact person: frank.daerden@aeronomie.be; christian.muller@aeronomie.be


Since 1998, Belgium has developed the first chemical data assimilation system for the atmosphere. This system combines information from satellite observations with information obtained by a numerical simulator in order to give a consistent overview of the evolution of the chemical composition of the atmosphere, filling the gap concerning observations at the space, temporal and species level. The efforts made at the BIRA-IASB concerning chemical data assimilation contribute to create a unique operational system providing analysis in near real time on the chemical composition of the earth atmosphere from ENVISAT satellite's observations. The system is comparable to the systems used in the great meteorological centres but is adapted to the chemical composition. The added value of this assimilation system is the following: (1) for the data providers: an unprecedented support for the validation of the observation platforms, and the control in near real time of the observation data quality, (2) for the scientific community: a significant diminution of the period of time between observations and the scientific data analysis results, (3) for the users (political, general public): the control in near real time of the atmosphere chemical composition, and the best forecast possible for the chemical composition (limited by the numerical weather prediction).

BIRA-IASB has a long standing tradition in developing and building space borne instruments. Relevant examples are contributions to following instruments: SPICAM-Light onboard ESA/Mars Express and ROSINA onboard ESA/ROSETTA.

BIRA-IASB's involvement in astrobiology began with exploratory model simulations substantiated by experimental tentative results; the tentative identification of formaldehyde in Mars infrared spectra obtained in 1989 during the PHOBOS Russian mission to Mars, also, a 1969 infrared spectrum obtained from the Palomar 5m. Telescope was found to show features identical to the formaldehyde spectrum.
Research Projects

•  Multi-dimensional modelling of Martian atmosphere

•  Using the already existing numerical framework, inverse modelling to determine relevant surface emissions.

•  The chemical data assimilation and its advantages will be applied to the research on the chemical composition for the planetary atmospheres.

•  Present projects in astrobiology include the study of the Mars-Express SPICAM results in terms of environmental parameters of the surface and the atmosphere.

•  The first project will be to evaluate directly biologically active UV on the surface by using the UV SPICAM channel which measures radiation from 118 to 320 nm. It is planned to use these spectra of nadir reflected and backscattered UV light to deduce the spectral distribution of solar radiation received at the surface in various seasonal and geographic conditions

•  A variety of dust loads, ranging from clear skies to global dust storms would allow checking the value of airborne Martian dust as a UV shield

• The effects of carbon dioxide seasonal variations will be checked both from observations and simulations as the carbon dioxide Martian UV filter edge can give an envelope limit for the survival of UV resistant bacteria on Mars surface.

•  A completely new project has been proposed and selected for study by ESA for the ExoMars mission. RADEX, a surface UV sensor is currently under development. It will be a multiple channel radiometer covering the UV from Lyman a (121.6 nm) to UV-A and part of the visible (500 nm) with up to 14 channels some of them as narrow as a few nm. Optimally, the instrument should have a capability to monitor total irradiance, direct sun and diffuse irradiances as a function of time between sunrises and sunsets for an entire Martian year


Other (Public outreach, conferences, equipments ...)

The BIRA-IASB/BUSOC has a communication cell.


The function is aimed at Belgian scientists involved in space research. This function means more particularly to keep scientists and Belgian industries, politicians and even the general public informed via the website about the publications, the organization of PR events on the occasion of missions with significant Belgian contribution.

Work methods

Direct collaboration with the B.USOC scientific support persons who are in charge of the different fields concerning space research.

The unit gathers and/of creates the material necessary for PR activities (pictures, videos, booklets, posters, website, cd-roms,.). Most of these productions are realised in French, Dutch and English.

More about the achievements of B.USOC communication unit



Design by B-USOC


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