SPACE DOMAINS // SPACE SAFETY
Space Weather concerns the dynamic environment both in the near-Earth region and within the solar system caused by the activity of the Sun and of non-solar sources such as galactic cosmic rays.
Essential to life on Earth, our Sun can also pose risks to the planet, by emitting magnetised plasma – ‘solar wind’ – and periodically ejecting billions of tons of matter threaded with a magnetic field in coronal mass ejections. Solar winds influence the space environment and can cause geomagnetic storms, affecting satellites, infrastructure on the ground and human health.
In a higher level, solar storms present severe hazards to satellite systems, manned space flights and different electronic systems on Earth. Moderate space weather events are frequent during each 11-year solar cycle. What we must worry about are extreme events, capable of causing substantial impacts on the infrastructure. These usually take place on average only once per cycle.
The most recent major space weather event was the Halloween storms in 2003. But there are others: in 1859 the Carrington event caused the collapse of the telegraph system all over Europe and North America; in 1989, a solar eruption caused a blackout in the Canadian power grid, leaving around six million people without power for nine hours. And, on July 14th, 2000, in what became known as the Bastille Day Incident, a solar explosion caused short circuited on satellites and affected radio communications.
Extreme events are statistically estimated to take place once within every 100 to 200 years. Still, ESA estimates that the socio-economic cost of moderate space weather events over 15 years would be up to about 13.000 M€. The losses tend to scale up as many commercial applications, including aviation are increasingly depending on satellite-based navigation and telecommunication services, with ESA estimating a socio-economic cost of a single extreme event up to 30000 M€ after 2030.
As well as we follow the meteorological weather forecast daily, the same will happen with space weather monitoring, which has to be as naturally integrated into every-day society and economy.
ESA’s estimate of the economic and social cost of a single extreme solar event after 2030 is over €30.000M.
Space weather warning systems and mitigation activities yield multiple benefits
- Social: They can mitigate disruption or damage to critical systems on which society continuously relies, such as navigation and telecommunication satellites, electric power grids and terrestrial radio communication systems. Even routine solar activity can have a significant and costly effect on satellites and sensitive infrastructure on the ground.
- Economic: The socio-economic cost of moderate space weather events in 15 years time could be up to 13000 M€. Although we cannot prevent space weather, costly ground infrastructure and satellites – and the critical services they provide – can be protected.
- Autonomy and Defence: The disruption of the operation of critical and defence infrastructure and information flow can cause weaknesses in defence grids and mechanism and be, therefore, a threat to military operations. Advanced knowledge and preparedness will guarantee the resilience and timeliness required by defence activities.
- Geopolitical: Loss of critical infrastructure and services could disrupt economic activity and daily life across Europe and the world, leading to serious upheaval.
- Scientific: Improve our understanding of the Sun-Earth system and its many interactions leading to space weather effects on Earth and other planets.
Space Weather, the vision
The vision for space weather is to enable Europe to better protect its relevant Space and ground infrastructure by 2030, based on the following pillars:
Operational space weather services tailored to European user needs providing timely, accurate and actionable information;
Tested and exercised early warning system enabling prompt responses based on actionable information;
Operational space weather monitoring system with longer-term maintenance and enhancement plan;
A resilient society (incl. infrastructure).
As for Portugal, the strategic objectives by 2030 are:
- Put in place an operational space weather service (and early warning system) tailored to user needs providing timely, accurate and actionable information;
- Develop a fully functional space-weather service for all citizens providing simple level 1 service;
- All critical infrastructure relies on space-weather information and a space-weather early-warning system;
- All planning and execution of defence operations include and rely on space-weather information and a space-weather early-warning system;
- All planning and execution of civil-protection operations, planning and execution rely on space-weather information;
- An adequate information policy.
Before 2030, all Portuguese critical infrastructure must rely on space-weather information and a space-weather early-warning system.
Also, the following objective needs to be considered:
- Develop subsystem and system competence to increase the Portuguese presence along the whole value chain, implement Portuguese goals in a European frame and strengthen the European space-based economy across all nations;
- Stimulate user uptake – commercial and institutional – by addressing user needs and including the user in the strategic definition process;
- Build synergies between national-ESA-EU funding for Space and other sectors.