In the day and age of exciting space explorations, it is important to be wary of the unpredictable space environment unbecoming.
Space, as much as it is clouded in mystery, is also unpredictable. Part of this uncertainty can be attributed to its volatile weather. But, among all the various weather conditions that take place around the cosmos, what particularly affects us, space-faring beings, is space weather. Space weather are conditions in outer space arising from solar activity that can affect our planet, atmosphere and near-Earth space environment.
Although Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field shelters our planet from the effects of solar activities (lucky for us on the ground!), the impact of the Sun’s radiation and charged particles is not so forgiving beyond our atmosphere.
Occasionally, surges of radiation can disrupt our electricity networks, satellite operations and communication lines. More seriously, geomagnetic storms, where space weather disturbs Earth’s magnetosphere, are capable of damaging and endangering orbital infrastructure.
These space storms do not only distort radio waves traveling through our planet’s atmosphere, which are highly vital to the accuracy of GPS systems, they also release radiation and charged particles that penetrate and upset electronic systems in spacecraft and satellites. This can lead to errors of different kinds, from as small as minor damages to even as large as total failures of satellites.
In a more recent event, SpaceX lost an entire fleet of Starlink satellites due to atmospheric drag caused by a solar-generated geomagnetic storm. The energy from the storm heats up and expands Earth’s atmosphere resulting in higher density in the planet’s thermosphere.
On a typical mission, satellites experience drag when hauling themselves into orbit. Engineers account for this drag when building the satellite and so, the satellites are able to overcome the force on a normal day. But increased density in the thermosphere caused by a geomagnetic storm leads to a more-than-normal amount of drag which the SpaceX Starlink satellites could not conquer, resulting in failure.
With our technologies advancing rapidly and the space sector growing exponentially, the safety of space assets have become more critical than ever. It is simply not enough to engineer space assets with state-of-the-art materials to shield against radiation. Space weather forecasts, on the other hand, have improved drastically over the past years and have shown to be the better option in safeguarding space assets against erratic space storms.
When researchers are able to accurately predict space weather, they will be able to protect assets by either turning off sensitive electronic systems or readjust the asset to avoid the oncoming storm. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has made its mission to monitor space and its weather on top of observing our planet. They use information collected by the Space Weather Prediction Center’s ground-based instruments and satellites to produce the necessary forecasts, alerts, and warnings required to safeguard infrastructure against hazardous space events.
In latest developments surrounding space weather forecasting, on March 1, 2022, NOAA successfully launched GOES-T, the third satellite in their Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) — R Series of advanced geostationary weather satellites to go into orbit. The three satellites in the series are equipped with sophisticated weather-surveillance systems to produce advanced imagery of weather on Earth, atmospheric measurements, and monitoring of space weather as well.
On a similar note, Dµst is a space management network that also doubles up as a space weather warning system. The Dµst Space Weather Service consists of two main elements:
- an OpenAPI for easy integration and management of alarms, alerts and planning
- and a Persistent Monitor that issues real-time notifications (alerts, warnings and critical information) of current space weather events in the form
These services are of particular importance to satellite operators, as phenomena occurring in Earth’s ionosphere have the potential to impact satellite operations, including communications and orbital decay.
Click here to register with Dµst Space Weather Warning Service for further updates space weather information and alerts.
The tantrums thrown by our Sun is not something that can be stopped or even controlled. It is up to us to manage our space operations to navigate around the solar activities to avoid damages to our technologies. And for that, we need to take on preventative measures with accurate space weather forecast systems.