Monitoring space weather using satellite mega-constellations to be explored | Imperial News

Illustration of the Earth surrounded by lots of small points representing satellites, with magnetic field lines over the top

Dr Martin Archer has won a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to work with Eutelsat OneWeb on a project using their satellites to monitor space weather.

The project could help protect satellite operations as well as power, communications, navigation, and transport systems.

The changing conditions in near-Earth space, known as space weather, pose a threat to a wide range of everyday technologies that people rely upon globally.

This unprecedented amount of data, distributed globally in space could enable us to monitor space weather better than ever before. Dr Martin Archer

Space weather can impact satellites’ electronics and orbits, disturb communications reception, and disrupt power grids on Earth, among many other hazards on crucial systems. Global monitoring of space weather is crucial not only to mitigate its effects in real time, but also to improve understanding of how and why these risks occur.

Dr Archer, from the Department of Physics at Imperial, has been awarded a Future Leaders Fellowship from UKRI, a scheme which aims to ‘develop the next wave of world-class research and innovation leaders in academia and business’.

He will use data from Eutelsat OneWeb’s first generation of satellites, which provide broadband services from a mega-constellation of more than 600 small satellites in low-Earth orbit. The Fellowship will support the project from 2024 until 2028.

Global space weather

The satellites use magnetometer equipment to control their orientation, which may also be able to detect tiny magnetic signals due to space weather. Dr Archer will work with Eutelsat OneWeb to investigate whether data taken from this equipment can be used to monitor space weather effectively.

Identifying these signals in the data would reveal the evolving patterns caused by space weather globally, which have not previously been observed. Ultimately, this could make it possible to prevent interruptions to technology both in space and on the ground, as well as providing researchers with valuable insight to help improve space weather predictions in the future.

Unprecedented amount of data

Dr Archer said: “I hope this fellowship will help revolutionise space weather monitoring by harnessing data from the hundreds of satellites in orbit around our planet, thanks to the mega-constellation launched by Eutelsat OneWeb.

“This unprecedented amount of data, distributed globally in space could enable us to monitor space weather better than ever before, boosting our ability to mitigate this hazard to society. It will also provide researchers with crucial observations to unveil how space weather works, improving our ability to predict its effects upon our everyday lives.”

On the collaboration, Maurizio Vanotti, VP New Markets at Eutelsat OneWeb, said: “We believe the space industry has a responsibility to work sustainably, and to advance causes that can positively help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.

“Space weather is certainly one of these societal challenges, even modest space weather can affect our satellite operations. We are committed to enabling this ambitious research and innovation at the intersection of academia and business and we look forward to working together to see how our vast data capabilities can help inform our actions in the future.”

Hayley Dunning

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