Space Weather: The Landscape

Space Weather-The Landscape

In this first report we hope to provide a brief overview of organizations involved in space weather today and an overview of assets being used to study and predict space weather.

Ensemble Space Labs, in collaboration with Simon Halpern’s Project Daedalus, is excited to introduce the first white paper in our Space Weather Series. Ensemble Space Labs and Project Daedalus are both dedicated to advancing the science of space weather and mitigating its risks. Throughout this series we hope to shed light on all aspects of space weather. In this first report we hope to provide a brief overview of organizations involved in space weather today and an overview of assets being used to study and predict space weather.

Space weather refers to the environmental conditions in Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere as determined by the Sun-Earth relationship. It may manifest as solar flares, solar winds, geomagnetic storms, or solar energetic particle (SEP) events. These phenomena can disrupt and damage space-borne and ground-based technological systems. For instance, intense solar storms can interfere with satellite operations, power grids, and navigation systems, as well as pose risks to astronauts in space. Awareness of space weather is essential to mitigating its potential adverse effects on technology and human activities.

Space Weather Organizations
In 1995 The United States began coordinating its space weather efforts through the National Space Weather Program (NSWP). This program assigned the responsibilities of each organization regarding space weather and facilitated interagency cooperation. In 2014 the Space Weather Operations, Research, and Mitigation Subcommittee (SWORM) was established and in 2015, the NSWP was deactivated. SWORM released a Nation Space Weather Strategy in 2015. This was later superseded by the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan (NSWSAP) in 2019. The NSWSAP outlines the roles and responsibilities of various government organizations in regard to space weather. It includes The Department of Defense, The
Department of Energy, The Department of Homeland Security, The Department of Commerce, The Department of the Interior, The National Science Foundation, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NASA’s Heliophysics Division is the primary source of space weather research within the US. They own a fleet of observational satellites providing space weather data and major programs such as Living with a Star that coordinates space weather research. Goddard Space Flight Center houses the Community Coordinated Modeling Center which develops and runs various space weather models to provide space weather insights.

NOAA operates the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) which is tasked with distributing space weather data and providing alerts and warnings of space weather events. It provides these notifications to various industries such as electric power, aviation, and satellite. These warnings allow the organizations that receive them to take mitigating or preventative action. SWPC also publishes routine reports of monitored solar activity and forecasts. It hosts a collection of space weather tools on its dashboard.

The Department of the Air Force maintains the DoD space weather operations. Air Force 557th Weather Wing provides space weather warnings and forecasts tailored for the military. The Air Force Research Laboratory conducts space weather research and develops instruments for space monitoring. The Naval Research Laboratory also conducts research and development on space weather instruments.

Other US Government Organizations:
The United States Geological Survey (USGS), which falls under the Department of the Interior, operates the magnetometers which are used to detect geomagnetic activity. These magnetometers’ outputs are used in various space weather models as well as warning systems. The National Science Foundation (NSF) distributes space weather research grants through its Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences. They collaborate and share research data with NASA and NOAA. The Department of Homeland Security provides the emergency response plan for space weather disasters. The Department of Energy oversees grid resilience and operating procedures to mitigate space weather impacts.

International Organizations:
Many countries have national research groups that conduct space weather research, however, there are far too many to list. In this paper I will mention the organizations that collaborate most closely with the US’s space weather efforts.

Natural Resources Canada operates several magnetometers and observatories and provides space weather forecasts for Canada. It collaborates closely with NOAA to provide accurate space weather data across North America. The European Space Agency (ESA) provides a similar function for Europe that NASA and NOAA provide for the United States. They operate several space weather observation satellites and collaborate closely with NASA and NOAA. They also coordinate research efforts between various national research groups throughout Europe. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) leads Japan’s space weather research activity and operates several space weather observation satellites.

Various international organizations are involved in space weather. The International Space Environmental Service (ISES), established in 1962, coordinates international Space weather research, data, and event response with the participation of its 23 member organizations. Several other international groups including the World Meteorological Organization, International Living with a Star, and the International Space Weather Initiative sponsor and facilitate international collaboration on space weather research.

Academic and Research Institutions:
Several academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and federally funded research and development centers (FFRDC) regularly contribute to space weather. Below several of the most active space weather research groups in the United States are listed. This list is by no means exhaustive and there are countless other organizations regularly contributing to space weather research and development. It would be nearly impossible to list every organization that has made contributions to the field of space weather.

University of Colorado Boulder/Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP): The
University’s Space Weather Technology, Research, and Education Center (SWx TREC) and LASP conduct a broad range of space weather research. They have developed instruments for various missions and currently maintain a data collection and delivery system to provide easy access to space weather data.

John Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory: They have designed and built several major space weather instruments including the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) which provides solar wind data from Lagrange point 1 as well as the Parker Solar Probe.

University of Michigan: The Center for Space Environment Modeling developed the Space Weather Modeling Framework (SWMF).

Boston University: Developed models for the space weather community through the NSF funded the Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling. Conduct heliosphere research through the Shield Drive Center.

Catholic University of America: The Space Weather Center collaborates closely with NASA CCMC in conducting space weather research.

Rice University: Is leading the Magnetosphere Multiscale Mission in collaboration with NASA and SWRI.

Aerospace Corporation: Has designed space weather instruments such as the ECP-Lite, used by the Space Force. It also conducts research through its Center for Assessing Space Weather Impacts and Innovation (CASII).

Southwest Research Institute: Designed instruments and conducted in laboratory experiments for heliophysics and planetary science.

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR): Conducts Space weather research funded by NSF and hosts the annual Space Weather Workshop.

Electric Plant Research Institute (EPRI): Researches the impacts of geomagnetic disturbances on the electric grid.

Various commercial entities participate in space weather research and mitigation. The American Commercial Space Weather Association (ACSWA) is a group of many of the largest private commercial space weather groups today. The ACSWA member organizations provide a wide range of expertise covering various space weather impacts. Several recently deployed satellite constellations have been equipped with instruments for observing the space environment. Several have entered into agreements to provide this data to the space weather community through NASA’s Commercial SmallSat Data Acquisition (CSDA) program and NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) program. This new generation of instruments provides a massive increase in the number of space weather collection assets.

Space Weather Assets

NASA Heliophysics Missions, 2023

Lagrange Point 1 (L1): L1 is a stable point directly between the Earth and sun roughly 900,000 miles from Earth. Several space weather observing satellites are placed here to provide continuous monitoring of the sun and advanced notification of incoming solar wind.

ACE – Advanced Composition Explorer
Launched / Orbit: 1997 / L1
Instruments: 9, collects and analyzes particles of solar, interplanetary, interstellar and galactic
Highlights: With the exception of the SEPICA instrument (data from which was no longer received after Feb. 4, 2005), all instruments on ACE remain operational and the propellant on the spacecraft could theoretically allow the mission to continue until about 2024.

SOHO – Solar and Heliophysics Observatory
Launched / Orbit: 1995 / L1
Instruments: 12, studying the sun from deep core to solar wind
Highlights: Designed for a nominal mission lifetime of two years. Because of its spectacular successes, the mission was extended five times (in 1997, 2002, 2006, 2008, and 2010). This allowed SOHO to cover an entire 11-year solar cycle (#23) and the rise of the new cycle 24, Revolutionizing our ability to forecast space weather, by giving up to three days notice of Earth-directed disturbances, and playing a lead role in the early warning system for space weather.

DISCOVR – Deep Space Climate Observatory
Launched / Orbit: 2015 / L1
Instruments: 3, monitoring solar wind
Highlights: Mission was conceived in the late 1990s then built and ultimately put in storage in 2003 where it sat until launch in 2015. Provides some of the earliest warning to Earth of approaching CMEs (15-60 minutes)

Launched / Orbit: 1994 / L1
Instruments: 9
Highlights: Identifies radio bursts, high energy photons, and solar wind composition

Near Earth Satellites:
STEREO – Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory
Launched / Orbit: 2006 / 1AU
Instruments: 9, enhances space weather forecasts by providing off-Sun-Earth-line measurements of the in-situ solar wind, interplanetary magnetic field, and energetic particle environment, in addition to coronal and heliospheric imagery.
Highlights: STEREO-B lost contact with Earth in 2014 and controllers were able to regain contact in 2016. STEREO-A continues to operate normally.

GOES (15-18) – Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites
Launched/Orbit: 2010-2022 / GEO
Instruments: 4 (for space weather)
Highlights: Detection of coronal holes, solar flares, and coronal mass ejection source regions, monitoring of energetic particles responsible for radiation hazards, data for power blackout forecasts, warnings of communications and navigation system disruptions

SDO – Solar Dynamics Observatory
Launched/Orbit: 2010 / GEO
Instruments: 3
Highlights: Detects solar magnetism, measures Solar UV radiation, conducts solar imaging

Earth-Based Assets:
Magnetometers – The USGS operates 14 magnetometers in the US used to monitor the Earth’s magnetic field. Using ground-based observatories, USGS provides continuous records of magnetic field variations; disseminates magnetic data to various governmental, academic, and private institutions; and conducts research into the nature of geomagnetic variations for purposes of scientific understanding and hazard mitigation.

Observatories – Several radio and optical observatories provide space weather data. Some of the major ones are listed below.
National Solar Observatory: This FFRDC operates a network of solar observatories including Big Bear Solar Observatory, Haleakala Observatory, Sunspot Solar Observatory, and the Global Scintillation Network Group (GONG).
Solar Electro Optical Network(SEON): A network of solar and radio observatories operated by Air Force Research Lab. This network provides real-time data to the DOD and NOAA SWPC.
Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory: Located in British Columbia, Canada, this observatory monitors solar flux and provides the F10.7, a key input to many space weather models.

Future Space Weather Assets
SWFO – Space Weather Follow On
Launched / Orbit: 2025 (planned) / L1
Instruments: 5, 5-year mission life with onboard consumables to last 10 years. The spacecraft and instruments are high-heritage designs.

As we continue to rely heavily on space-based assets and electronic infrastructures, understanding and predicting space weather becomes ever more crucial. Our collective effort to understand space weather underscores the complexity of the Sun-Earth system and the need to protect our technological assets. The journey of discovery, observation, and mitigation is ongoing, and with continued cooperation and research, we can be better prepared for the challenges and wonders that space weather brings.

Space Weather: An Overview of Policy and Select U.S. Government Roles and
Responsibilities, Eva Lipiec
NASA Heliophysics
CU Boulder
Boston University
Rice University
Aerospace Corp
Science Direct – SOHO
Harvard CFA
Ball Aerospace
Science Direct
Physics Today