Boeing, Irdium Help Implement Space-Based Magnetic Field Monitoring System

[Satellite TODAY 08-18-10] The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), with help Boeing and Iridium Communications, has implemented a space-based system to monitor the Earth’s space environment, the APL announced Aug. 18.
     The Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE) provides real-time magnetic field measurements using Iridium’s constellation of 66 satellites as part of an observation network to forecast weather in space. This is the first step in developing a system that enables 24-hour tracking of Earth’s response to supersonic blasts of plasma ejected from the sun at collection rates fast enough to one day enable forecasters to predict space weather effects.
     Boeing handles data collection, processing and packaging from the Iridium satellite fleet for AMPERE and transfers the magnetic field samples to the Science Data Center at APL in Laurel, Md., where the data are processed to produce globally integrated views of Earth’s space environment. Boeing developed a new data pathway for transferring magnetic field samples from the satellites to the ground station that provides the data up to 100 times more frequently than before. Based on this innovation, AMPERE provides data every 2 to 20 seconds from each Iridium satellite, and the data are available within minutes for analysis. Previously, data were only sampled once every three minutes and were available for analysis the following day.
     "This milestone brings us one step closer to accurate space weather forecasts around the Earth," APL’s Brian Anderson, principal investigator and the scientist who spearheads the program, said in a statement. "Solar storms can disrupt satellite service and damage telecommunications networks, cause power grid blackouts and even endanger high-altitude aircraft. The next wave of solar storms will occur over the next three to five years and recent solar activity is just the beginning of a long, stormy space weather season. The timing for AMPERE is just right because we need this system both to help us understand how solar storms disturb the space environment and to develop reliable monitoring and forecasts of major space weather storms."
     The next step for the APL scientists will be to develop the analytical tools to evaluate and forecast severe geomagnetic storms in space. This phase of the project is on schedule and the first release of AMPERE space weather products to the scientific community is planned for the fourth quarter of 2010.
     “This program provides a model of a successful public-private partnership between the scientific and academic communities and industry,” Steve Oswald, vice president and general manager, Boeing Intelligence and Security Systems, said in a statement. “Together this team will answer critical scientific questions about our home planet.”
     The AMPERE program is funded by a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

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