International scientists at European Space Weather Week 7

Speaking in November 2010 at a major European scientific conference, ESA experts presented plans for the initial versions of space weather hazard warning services, soon to be offered as part of the Agency's Space Situational Awareness Preparatory Programme.

Experts from ESA's Space Situational Awareness Preparatory Programme (SSA-PP) presented the latest overview of soon-to-be-deployed space weather warning services at the 7th annual European Space Weather Week (ESWW7) in Bruges, Belgium, 15-19 November 2010.

The event is one of the world's top venues for scientists, engineers and researchers studying space weather and its impacts on critical technologies and systems.

One major focus of the conference was ESA's SSA programme, and its preparations to launch initial warning services against hazards such as solar storms and magnetic storms. Such natural phenomenon present serious hazards to all satellites in Earth orbit, astronauts on board the ISS and to some infrastructure on the ground, such as communication systems and power distribution networks at northern latitudes.

Latest information on ESA's SSA system

Space weather experts from ESA presented the latest information on current studies to define the first space weather 'precursor services' that will be offered by the SSA system to customers such as satellite operators and developers. The first services are due to be deployed during 2011 and will be followed by more during the course of the SSA Preparatory Programme.

"We were very happy to include as part of this year's event, a joint session covering the main SSA space weather activities together with presentations on a broad range of new space weather-focussed R&D studies supported by the European Comission. This was also the first public presentation of these studies, which will be highly complementary to our ongoing SSA work," said ESA's Alexi Glover, a space weather expert and one of the conference organizers.

Solar storms generate large amounts of radiation and particles that can arrive at Earth and harm satellites within less than 24 hours. Satellites orbiting between the Sun and Earth themselves provide some of the best 'early-warning' vantage points.

Another SSA study presented at ESWW7 covers identifying the instrumentation that will be needed to perform space-based space weather observations and the optimal locations from which to make these observations. In order to achieve reliable space weather warning services, constant monitoring of the space environment from a range of vantage points on ground and in space will be needed, together with timely dissemination of reliable data to customers.

SSA: Reuse of exisiting European capabilities

The SSA programme is also assessing existing European space weather facilities and capabilities that could be incorporated into the future full SSA system. Typical examples of existing national assets include space weather observatories, centres of analytical excellence, warning and forecasting networks, radiation and dosimetry expertise and space weather computational models, tools and data processing facilities.

"We met with many experts from Europe and the rest of the world. There is a lot of support in the scientific community for ESA's SSA activities and we discussed the many opportunities for European scientific and research centres to contribute to SSA precursor services for space weather warnings," said Juha-Pekka Luntama, Head of the Space weather Segment at ESA's SSA programme office.

Europe already has a wealth of expertise and assets providing high-quality scientific observations, results and models as well as a number of space weather products to local customers. ESA's SSA space weather segment intends to build on this foundation and work toward a federated space-weather service-provision concept, avoiding duplication and ensuring that these existing assets and resources play a key role in Europe's new SSA system.

In Europe's economy today, numerous sectors are potentially affected by space weather, ranging from space-based telecommunications, broadcasting, weather services and navigation through to power distribution and terrestrial communications, especially at northern latitudes.

More than 250 experts from 35 countries took part in the 2010 European Space Weather Week, the largest attendance ever.

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