Even small solar flares can have devastating consequences for the environment around Earth, space weather experts learned after SpaceX lost 40 new satellites in February after launching in a “moderate” geomagnetic storm. In a new study, a team of researchers outlines how to fix future space weather forecasts, to prevent companies from sending their vehicles into such “treacherous waters.”
In late January this year, an explosion of hot magnetized plasma erupted from the sun towards a landprompting space weather forecasters at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) to issue a moderate geomagnetic storm warning.
At the same time, SpaceX The engineers were preparing a group of 50 Starlink Internet satellites to launch on the company Falcon 9 Rocket. they saw space climate Alert and run data through a model of Earth’s upper atmosphere, where they were about to place their spacecraft. Analysis indicated that the environment was safe, but when the missile released its payload at 217 miles (350 kilometers), everything exploded. The thin air around the spacecraft behaved differently than ground control observers expected, and 38 of the new satellites quickly returned to Earth rather than ascending into their operational orbit 340 miles (550 km) above the planet.
Related: NASA’s planned mission to the “ignorant envelope” could improve space weather forecasts
A geomagnetic storm was quickly identified as the cause of the accident, and a new study by SpaceX and NOAA experts has now revealed that had SpaceX pursued NOAA’s additional resources, the company may have changed its mind about that ill-fated launch.
Last year, NOAA launched what it calls the Complete Atmospheric Model (WAM), which runs on process models Earth’s atmosphere Down to an altitude of 370 miles (600 km), above the troposphere is where terrestrial weather occurs. The model includes the thermosphere, the second-highest layer of Earth’s atmosphere, where thin, diffuse gases cause clouds that slow satellites.
When space weather hits, the thermosphere swells, and the thin air temporarily becomes denser. The study showed that during that geomagnetic storm, air density at altitudes between 125 and 250 miles (200 and 400 kilometers) increased by 50% to 125%. For satellites orbiting the Earth at speeds of nearly 20,000 mph (28,000 km/h), such an increase in intensity would feel like they were suddenly running against very strong winds.
Since the accident, SpaceX has worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help improve space weather forecasts for satellite operators, Tzu-Wei Fang, an astronomer at SPWC and lead author of the new study, told Space.com at previous interview.
The company has even begun providing data on its Earth-orbiting satellites to the agency to improve the model, as NOAA is currently grappling with a lack of measurements from the critical region, according to Fang.
Fang said in a statement (Opens in a new tab). “The free exchange of model and satellite data and close interaction between SWPC and the Starlink team has enabled us to quantify the impact of space weather events on these satellites, helping us to quickly prioritize our tasks to improve our space weather models and design operational products that will best meet the needs of commerce modern satellite.
SpaceX isn’t the only satellite operator that has faced problems with space weather. Earlier this year, the European Space Agency said its Swarm satellites, which monitor Earth’s magnetic field, were Ten times faster since December 2021 compared to other years since its launch in 2013. The reason for this is the increase in solar activity as the sun moves towards the peak of its current solar cyclethe 11-year cycle of tides in a generation sunspots and bangs. Moreover, the current solar cycle is becoming so Much more active than space weather forecasters predictedIt comes after a long lull.
Experts warn that the current period of turbulent space weather comes at a time when far more small satellites are being launched into low Earth orbit than at previous solar cycle peaks. Many of these new satellites are simple cubes with no onboard propulsion. Thus, an increase in atmospheric clouds due to space weather may significantly reduce the time a spacecraft can remain in orbit while performing its missions.
The study concluded, “It is critical that SWPC generate appropriate alerts and warnings based on [air] Intensity predictions to provide users with guidance to prevent satellite losses due to clouds and to aid in collision avoidance calculations. “
Other teams have warned that in cases of very severe solar storms, changes in clouds can be so great that the speeds and altitudes of orbiting satellites will change so much that computer algorithms generate warnings when two objects, satellites or space debris are hit. Too close to each other will become completely inaccurate.
It will take several weeks to back out Both trash and cubes and the catalog sync with reality. During that time, operators will not receive accurate collision avoidance notifications, and the risk of devastating collisions in orbit will increase dramatically.
Severe solar storms can also wreak havoc on Earth, causing power outages and disrupting GPS and radio signals. Although these powerful solar storms are not uncommon, they can sometimes appear without warning.
the study (Opens in a new tab)which was published in American University’s Space Weather journal, was published on November 2.
#space #weather #forecasts #saved #SpaceXs #Starlink #satellites #solar #storm