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Upgrading the UK's ability to predict and manage space weather events

3 April 2020

A package of funding, soon to be made available to the UK research community, will invite scientists, to work on projects that help improve our ability to forecast space weather.

From solar flares to magnetic storms, space weather can have a massive impact on mobile phones, transport, GPS signals and the electricity networks we rely on every day at home. It can disrupt national infrastructures, including satellite communications and the National Grid.

The aim is for the successful research projects to lead to the development and use of new instruments, working models and services that will help experts in the UK monitor and predict space weather. These will be used by the UK’s Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre and its customers.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) working alongside staff at the world-renowned STFC (RAL) Space Facility, will shortly begin inviting proposals in three funding calls. This is part of the UKRI Space Weather Instrumentation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) call, a £20million, four-year programme, announced by the Prime Minister last September.

Professor Mark Thomson, particle physicist and Executive Chair of STFC, explained that the programme will look to improve the UK’s capabilities for space weather monitoring and prediction.

“This is an important programme with the emphasis on space radiation that can impact the conditions in the Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn can affect aircraft systems and communications, and also can result in current surges in power grids and other ground-level systems. These issues, which are recorded in the UK’s National Risk Register, represent significant risks to the infrastructure we rely on in daily life.”

The three STFC funding calls, part of the wider programme, are due to be open for applications soon and focus on:

  • The development of models and prediction services to enable space weather experts to make forecasts about solar wind,
  • The development of equipment on earth that will help monitor radiation levels from space,
  • A space weather impact study, updating the Royal Academy of Engineering’s report on Extreme Space Weather (2013).

The wider SWIMMR programme will significantly develop the UK’s capability to predict and mitigate the hazards of space weather, as well as providing a basis for wider international collaboration. The project brings together researchers funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), with teams at the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC) – supported by the Department for Business, Education and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence.

You can find out more about applying for this call here.

More information

STFC RAL Space has multidisciplinary expertise in the science of space weather and a leading role in European space weather activities. For example, we are playing leading roles in developing the next generation of space weather monitoring missions and enabling innovative uses of ground-based radars and radio telescopes for space weather studies. We are also a key UK contributor to the international exchange of space weather data, courtesy of our role in hosting the archives of the UK Solar System Data Centre, which include the world's longest time series of upper atmosphere data, secured from our high quality monitoring of the Earth's ionosphere from Oxfordshire and the Falkland Islands.

https://www.ralspace.stfc.ac.uk/Pages/Space-weather.aspx

Last updated: 03 April 2020

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