The UK and the US have joined forces to develop an enhanced space weather forecasting system to help detect extreme events that can be dangerous to astronauts and can impact electrical infrastructure, telecommunications systems, aviation and satellite navigation.
In this connection, the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) will collaborate with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on science, space and ground systems technology.
The UK is set to develop a new instrument that will be deployed on a space monitoring spacecraft. In order to protect astronauts, satellites and ground infrastructure, the instrument will observe the solar wind, which is the magnetised plasma emitted by the Sun.
Scientists at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) of the University College London (UCL) are working on an instrument called ‘plasma analyser’, which will provide early warning of imminent, damaging weather when deployed in deep space. The project is being backed by the €8m (£7m) funding from the UK Space Agency, allotted through the ESA.
UK Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock said: “The space weather mission projects our global influence by partnering with Europe and the USA, driving and protecting future UK knowledge and prosperity, and keeping Britain safe and secure from potential impacts of space weather.”
In the coming five years, NOAA and ESA, with support from the UK, intend to launch two complementary solar monitoring satellites. The plasma analyser will fly on ESA’s L5 space monitoring mission to keep an eye on solar wind.
UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory director Andrew Fazakerley said: “UCL has many years of research experience in the science of space weather and in building instruments with which to study it, most recently through roles in providing both solar and space plasma instruments for ESA’s upcoming Solar Orbiter mission.”
The UK Space Agency said that it is working with ESA and the NOAA on their complementary L1 space monitoring spacecraft. UK-based RAL Space is also developing optical instruments to be used in space weather missions under the current ESA programme.
The solar wind data generated by the plasma analyser, and others at L1, are crucial to enable the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC) to provide timely space weather alerts and warnings to help Critical National Infrastructure operators to mitigate the risk associated with weather in the space.