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Modelling the acceleration, transport and loss of radiation belt electrons to protect satellites from space weather (Rad-Sat)
Over the last 10 years the number of operational satellites in orbit has grown from 450 to more than 1300. We rely on these satellites more than ever before for a wide range of applications such as mobile phones, TV signals, internet, navigation and financial services. All these satellites must be designed to withstand the harsh radiation environment in space for a design life that can be as long as 15 years or more. Space weather events can increase electron radiation levels by five orders of magnitude in the Earth's Van Allen radiation belts causing satellite charging, disruption to satellite operations and sometimes satellite loss. For example, in 2003 it was estimated that at least 10% of all operational satellites suffered anomalies (malfunctions1) during a large space weather event known as the Halloween storm. It is therefore important to understand how and why radiation levels vary so much so that engineers and business can assess impact and develop mitigation measures. New results from the NASA Van Allen Probes and THEMIS satellite missions show that wave-particle interactions play the major role in the acceleration, transport and loss of high energy electrons and hence the variability of the radiation belts. This proposal brings together scientists from across the UK with stakeholders from the insurance and satellite services sector. We will process data from scientific satellites such as Van Allen Probes and THEMIS to obtain information on four very important type of waves known as magnetosonic waves, and radio-waves known as plasmaspheric hiss, lightning generated whistlers and transmitter waves. We will use data, theory and models to determine the properties of the waves and how they vary during space weather events. We will conduct studies to assess the acceleration, transport and loss of electrons due to each wave type using quasi-linear theory. We will use simulations to test whether nonlinear effects result in more particle acceleration and loss compared to quasi-linear theory. We will analyse compressional magnetosonic waves in the ultra-low frequency range and determine their effectiveness for transporting electrons across the magnetic field, and whether the transport is diffusive or not. We will incorporate the results of these studies into our state-of-the-art global radiation belt model to simulate known space weather events, and compare the results against data to highlight the importance of the waves and improve the model. We will also include local time effects and compare loss rates against data from the ground and other satellites to constrain the model. We will simulate extreme space weather events using our existing radiation belt model, and an MHD model so that we can assess the role of waves in the rapid formation of a radiation belt such as occurred in 1991 in less than 2 minutes. We will develop a stakeholder community consisting of space insurance, satellite operators and forecasters who will provide input to our research and who will use the results for risk assessment, anomaly resolution and operational planning. The project will deliver new processed data, a better forecasting capability and expertise that will support the UK Government assessment of severe space weather for the National Risk Register2 and the growth of the satellite industry.
2 Researchers
  • Dept of Space & Climate Physics
    extResource/image/01/CFORS88
  • Dept of Space & Climate Physics
    extResource/image/01/IRAEX02
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