Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Efforts underway to help protect satellites from upsets
Posted: August 21, 2000

  SOHO image
The U.S./European SOHO spacecraft sees a massive solar ejection earlier this summer. Photo: NASA/ESA
Teams from The Aerospace Corporation are working with the Air Force to develop an early warning system for satellite operators at a time when solar storms will be increasing.

The Enhanced Operation Ground System Testbed project will support military customers by increasing situational awareness of space environmental activity that can affect satellite operation.

David Desrocher, senior project engineer of The Aerospace Corporation's Space Operations Support Office in Colorado Springs, says the project will provide operators with the increased ability to protect satellites from harmful solar activity and other threats.

"We want to gather all appropriate information on what is going on with a specific satellite and fold it into an understandable format to let operators know about potential hazards. Operators can then use the information to take appropriate actions," Desrocher said.

Others involved in the project include Dr. Harry Koons, distinguished scientist within the Space Science Applications Laboratory, Dr. David Gorney, associate principal director of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, William Tosney, director of the Space Systems Engineering Database Center, and Gary Schipper, director of the Modeling and Simulation Directorate.

Desrocher said project findings will be of great importance over the next three to four years, while the sun is in its solar maximum, a period of increased solar activity that occurs approximately every 11 years at the end of the sun's cycle.

This cyclical event is marked by an increased number of solar storms, consisting mainly of solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

The solar maximum is being blamed for a severe geomagnetic storm recorded July 15-16 in which several research satellites experienced upsets, according to the Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo. This was the worst solar storm to hit since 1989, when the sun was in its last solar maximum.

Major risks to satellites caused by solar storms include temporary electronic upsets, sensor "confusion," resulting in satellites pointing in the wrong direction, and excess drag on satellites in low Earth orbit, bringing them closer to Earth, Desrocher said.