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The first real-time worldwide ionospheric predictions network: An advance in support of spaceborne experimentation, on-line model validation, and space weather

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Abstract

We report on the first realtime ionospheric predictions network and its capabilities to ingest a global database and forecast F-layer characteristics and “in situ” electron densities along the track of an orbiting spacecraft. A global network of ionosonde stations reported around-the-clock observations of F-region heights and densities, and an on-line library of models provided forecasting capabilities. Each model was tested against the incoming data; relative accuracies were intercompared to determine the best overall fit to the prevailing conditions; and the best-fit model was used to predict ionospheric conditions on an orbit-to-orbit basis for the 12-hour period following a twice-daily model test and validation procedure. It was found that the best-fit model often provided averaged (i.e., climatologically-based) accuracies better than 5% in predicting the heights and critical frequencies of the F-region peaks in the latitudinal domain of the TSS-1R flight path. There was a sharp contrast, however, in model-measurement comparisons involving predictions of actual, unaveraged, along-track densities at the 295 km orbital altitude of TSS-1R. In this case, extrema in the first-principle models varied by as much as an order of magnitude in density predictions, and the best-fit models were found to disagree with the “in situ” observations of Ne by as much as 140%. The discrepancies are interpreted as a manifestation of difficulties in accurately and self-consistently modeling the external controls of solar and magnetospheric inputs and the spatial and temporal variabilities in electric fields, thermospheric winds, plasmaspheric fluxes, and chemistry.

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