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European researchers to help satellites from space radiation damage

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Researchers from six European countries have developed a system to forecast space weather and save satellites from radiation damage.

SPACECAST, which went live from March 01, provides frequent and reliable web-based forecasts on earth’s magnetic field to changes in radiation so that satellite operators can take preventive action to save their crafts. The system, developed by researchers from six European countries, led by researchers at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) uses satellite data, ground-based measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field and state-of-the-art computer models to forecast space weather for the region where most satellites orbit the Earth.

Solar Radiation Storm (Photo Courtesy: NASA)

Millions of dollars have been lost as a result of large magnetic storms in space causing damages to satellites. A large magnetic storm in 2003 led to malfunctioning of over 47 satellites, including the total loss of a scientific satellite valued at 640 million US dollars.  The largest magnetic storm ever recorded – the Carrington storm of 1859 – occurred before society became reliant on satellites for TV, internet, navigation and telecommunications. If such a super-storm occurs today, it would cost as high as 30 billion US dollars.

Any malfunctioning of communication satellites could affect navigation, telecommunication services, which use global positioning system technology.

“The Sun is becoming more active again triggering more geomagnetic storms which generally increase space radiation,” said Professor Richard Horne from British Antarctic Survey, who is leading the project. “For the first time we can now forecast radiation levels for a whole range of different orbits, from geostationary to medium Earth orbit where there is a tremendous growth in the number of satellites. Nobody has done that before.”

With the 11-year sunspot cycle set to begin a peak of stormy activity between 2013 and 2015, the new forecast system has become more important. It will update the situation every hour and help protect satellites used for navigation, telecommunications, remote sensing and other services.


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