United Kingdom Space Agency is funding a spacecraft to monitor the huge solar storms that could damage communications on Earth. Britain plays an important role in the mission of the European Space Agency (ESA), which aims to give early warning several days before a catastrophic solar storm.
Storms occur when the sun is emitting overheated radioactive material and may disrupt modern technology by causing geomagnetic storms that affect satellite and navigation, communication systems and electricity networks.
A recent ESA study estimated that the potential socio-economic impact in Europe from a single extreme weather phenomenon could reach 15 billion. However, much of this interruption could be avoided.
The mission, called Lagrange, predicts a spacecraft positioned at a fixed point between the Sun and the Earth. Lagrange points are areas between two large bodies where gravitational forces are balanced, allowing the object to “park” between them.
The three teams, developing the spacecraft, and the instruments are from Britain. The University of London, Airbus UK and the Council of Science and Technology.
“Space Weather is the fifth most serious risk in the UK’s latest National Hazard Register, as a high-risk, medium-risk risk for our daily lives in the UK,” said Dr. Jonny Rae (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory) who helps design.
“At the same time, we are significantly expanding the number of business satellites through new technologies and services for applications such as mobile phones, television, navigation, financial services and insurance, as well as Earth observation, early warning systems,” he added.
Satellite communications activity may affect satellite navigation services, such as Galileo, due to the effects of weather conditions on the upper atmosphere. This in turn can affect aviation, road transport, shipping and any activities that depend on exact placement.
On the ground, airlines may also deal with aircraft electronics damage and increase radiation doses to crews at altitudes over long distances. Space impacts on the ground may include damage and disturbances in power distribution networks, increased corrosion of conductors and degradation of radio communications.
In the past there have been several major geomagnetic storms that could cause significant damage to our modern electronic world today. In 1989, the east coast of America and Canada was left without electricity for nine hours. In 2003, Sweden also experienced a power failure for the same reasons. In 1859, a huge solar storm, called “Event Carrington,” caused damage to telegraph systems around the world, in some cases causing electric shock to operators. There was such an impact that some telegraph systems continued to operate, even though the power supply had been interrupted.