Space weather forecasters are formulating models that would enable satellite operators to prepare for bad space weather. However, they have a problem regarding a lack of measurements at heights where Earth’s atmosphere joins outer space. SpaceX is now stepping in to help replenish the gaps after its firsthand experience with a surprising solar storm earlier this year.
In February 2022, 40 brand-new Starlink satellites plunged to Earth when they encountered an outbreak of stormy space weather right after the liftoff. “The solar storm that caused their demise wasn’t even a bad one,” Tzu-Wei Fang, a space scientist in the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announced.
However, the incident was just a hint for things to come, as the sun, after a long quiet period, is waking up to a more robust activity cycle.
When NOAA started shaping the response of the thermosphere to incoming explosions of particles from the sun that form the solar storm, they found insufficient data to feed their model.
“We want to capture the physics from the ground all the way to space,” Fang announced. “But we don’t have a sufficient data sample. The lower atmosphere model tells you exactly that it’s going to rain tomorrow because they have all sorts of measurements from balloons and airplanes available to them. We don’t have that. We don’t have many satellites flying in situ providing information.”