Fast Solar Wind Could Affect Satellites More Than Major Geomagnetic Storms

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Satellites are more likely to be affected by a fast solar wind than by major geomagnetic storms a new study conducted by the UK and US scientists revealed. The author of this study, published in the Journal Space Weather, made their assumption based on the measurements they made within the Van Allen radiation belts, a zone which encircles the Earth and traps highly charged particles.

The researchers revealed that the electron radiation levels at geostationary orbit remain high for at least five days after the solar wind speed slowed down. Consequently, satellites’ electronic components could charge up to damaging levels.

“Until now we thought that the biggest risk to orbiting satellites was geomagnetic storms. Our study constructed a realistic worst-case event by looking at space weather events caused by high-speed solar wind flowing away from the Sun and striking the Earth. We were surprised to discover just how high electron radiation levels can go,” explained the study’s leading author, Professor Richard Horne.

A fast solar wind might be more hazardous for satellites than major geomagnetic storms

This new study, of great significance for the satellites industry, found out that “fast solar wind is more dangerous to satellites because the geomagnetic field extends beyond geostationary orbit and electron radiation levels are increased all the way around the orbit,” as Professor Horne said.

The researchers also added that even though the electronic components inside satellites are covered in metal shields to protect them against solar storms, the thickness of these aluminum protective cases is not big enough. So, the satellites might be affected by a fast solar wind that charges them with radiations for more than five days.

“There are well over 450 satellites in geostationary orbit, and so in a realistic worst case we would expect many satellites to report malfunctions and a strong likelihood of service outage and total satellite loss,” concluded Professor Richard Horne.

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