Space Weather

Cover image for Vol. 14 Issue 10

Impact Factor: 2.398

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2015: 26/61 (Astronomy & Astrophysics); 30/81 (Geochemistry & Geophysics); 30/84 (Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences)

Online ISSN: 1542-7390

Associated Title(s): Space Weather Quarterly

Predictive model to protect satellites from space weather

The Sun is expected to reach solar maximum this year, heralding a peak in sunspot activity and, within a few years, an increase in geomagnetic storms. Within the past decade, the number of satellites in orbit has soared; these satellites form the technological backbone of an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars per year. As of May 2012, nearly 1000 satellites occupied orbits around the Earth, with the bulk of these in either geosynchronous or low Earth orbits. Many currently active satellites, however, were launched in the past few years and are flying with new technologies that have been as yet untested in the harsh conditions presented by the peak of the solar cycle. Shifts in satellite construction techniques, including a reliance on off-the-shelfcomponents rather than those designed to be hardened against radiation, mean that some modern equipment may remain vulnerable to solar activity. What's more, societal dependencies on the information provided by satellites, including the Global Positioning System time stamps used to drive automatic high-frequency stock market trading, mean that the potential consequences of satellites being damaged by solar activity have increased.

To help protect the global satellite network, Horne et al. developed SPACECAST, a physics-based predictive system for the outer Van Allen radiation belt that uses observations of the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field to provide forecasts of the radiation conditions for the next 3 hours. The system has been running largely without interruption since November 2011, providing hourly updates year-round. The system can be used to warn satellite operators of solar activity that could damage their equipment. The authors note, however, that SPACECAST is not designed to predict large coronal mass ejections or fast-moving shocks but, rather, is meant to address the more regular threats posed by solar activity.

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