SEP 03, 2018 07:00 PM PDT

High-Speed Solar Wind May Pose a Greater Risk to Satellites Than Geomagnetic Storms

The satellites that we put into space to orbit the Earth and explore distant worlds are comprised of highly sensitive electronics. With that in mind, they demand unique shielding mechanisms to protect them from threats like geomagnetic storms and high-speed solar winds.

For the longest time, scientists have thought that geomagnetic storms posed a higher risk for satellite damage than high-speed solar storms, but a new study published this week in the journal Space Weather finds that the opposite could be true.

A satellite orbits the Earth.

Image Credit: NASA

“Until now we thought that the biggest risk to orbiting satellites was geomagnetic storms,” explained Professor Richard Horne, the lead author of the study.

“Our study constructed a realistic worst-case event by looking at space weather events caused by high-speed solar wind flowing away from the Sun and striking the Earth. We were surprised to discover just how high electron radiation levels can go.”

Related: Did a solar storm damage Earth's magnetic field?

The researchers analyzed several years’ worth of satellite data and were quickly astounded by just how long electron radiation levels could linger following a high-speed solar wind event. Intriguingly, it wasn’t uncommon for these high electron radiation levels to persist for five or more days at a time.

Citing the researchers, the longer the high electron radiation levels stick around, the worse off a satellite’s onboard electronic systems will be. Prolonged exposure can charge a satellite’s electronics up to potentially hazardous levels, sometimes even enough to cause damage.

As for why this is more dangerous than a geomagnetic storm, Professor Horne explains it best:

“Fast solar wind is more dangerous to satellites because the geomagnetic field extends beyond geostationary orbit and electron radiation levels are increased all the way round the orbit – in a major geomagnetic storm the field is distorted, and radiation levels peak closer to the Earth.”

Related: 'Rockoons' could make small satellite deployment more accessible

The researchers go on to explain that thicker aluminum shielding could be employed to protect satellites’ sensitive electronics from high-speed solar storms. Based on their calculations, it would be ideal for satellites to utilize aluminum shielding that was at least 2.5mm thick. Today, satellites use much thinner shielding, which may not hold up to a high-speed solar wind event.

The research highlights some serious concerns with modern satellites and underscores the importance of building safety systems capable of protecting the sensitive instruments we install on them. It should be interesting to see how space agencies and commercial satellite companies respond to the results of this study.

Source: Phys.org, Space Weather

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
SEP 04, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 04, 2018
This NASA Rocket Will Spend 15 Minutes Gawking at the Sun with X-Ray Vision
NASA is currently eyeballing Friday, September 7th for the third consecutive launch of its Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager (FOXSI), a space vehicle spec...
OCT 17, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 17, 2018
Do Magnetic Fields Influence Supermassive Black Hole Activity?
Black holes have long captivated some of the most brilliant minds in astrophysics, and despite all the space telescope observations astronomers have made o...
OCT 24, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 24, 2018
The Importance of Removing Space Junk From Low-Earth Orbit
Space junk is a growing concern among space agencies all around the globe. Countless pieces of space junk surround the Earth in low-Earth orbit, and when t...
OCT 28, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 28, 2018
How NASA's Apollo Program Changed Spaceflight Forever
NASA’s Apollo program trekked carefully along the dangerous line separating risk from reward, and as it would seem, the American space agency may hav...
NOV 04, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 04, 2018
These Planets Have More Extreme Weather Than Earth
You might think that the weather can get nasty here on Earth, but it pales in comparison to the weather on other planets in the solar system. The weather c...
NOV 11, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 11, 2018
Rocket Lab Successfully Sends Electron Rocket on its First Commercial Flight
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket quickly became of the most prominent means of commercial and private satellite launches, but sending such a massive rocket t...
Loading Comments...