A consortium of Polish companies and research institutions commissioned by the European Space Agency will develop an innovative tool for more effective solar weather forecasting. The project will see a partnership between Creotech Instruments S.A., the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and CloudFerro as the consortium leader. Worth over PLN 800 thousand, the project is scheduled for completion within 18 months.
The troposphere, i.e. the layer of the Earth’s atmosphere closest to its surface, whose thickness varies from 8 to 18 km depending on latitude, accounts for about half of the total mass of the entire atmosphere. The troposphere is where the entire water cycle of our planet occurs, weather phenomena take place and where clouds form. Above it, up to an altitude of 50 km, there is the layer called the stratosphere, where the temperature rapidly increases and the ionization of oxygen leads to the formation of ozone molecules that make up the ozone layer, which protects us from ultraviolet radiation harmful to living organisms. Even higher, up to about 85 km, there the mesosphere, a layer that cannot be reached by planes or even weather balloons, making it very difficult to study. It is in this layer of the atmosphere where most meteors burn up and end their journey.
Further, up to an altitude of 2,000 km above the Earth, extends the ionosphere, where the air is so thin that sound waves no longer propagate. In this layer of the atmosphere, the accelerated high-energy particles of the solar wind begin to collide with the particles of atmospheric gases, stimulating them to glow and giving rise to aurora displays. The ionosphere is home to many low Earth orbit satellites and the International Space Station.
Disruptions in the ionosphere, triggered by solar storms, cause disturbances in radio communication, thus given humanity’s increasing reliance on satellite communication systems, the importance of research on the Earth’s ionosphere and the processes occurring there is growing.
“Violent solar storms, which are in fact powerful explosions on the surface of our star, involve the ejection of huge amounts of energy and matter into space. Some of the charged particles hurled into space reach the Earth and cause so-called magnetic storms in the outer layer of its atmosphere,” explained Grzegorz Brona, PhD, President of the Management Board of Creotech Instruments S.A. “Depending on their strength, such storms may damage telecommunication satellites, disrupt radio transmissions within the atmosphere or damage the energy infrastructure. Such phenomena have been occurring for centuries, but their destructive potential only grows with technological advancement and our increasing reliance on electronic systems and communication,” he added.
In search of improved models
The Pogodynka (Weather Reporter) project will see the development of an experimental solar weather forecasting service. The project’s authors are hoping that once implemented it will allow for the development of new, more perfect models of the Earth’s ionosphere, which will facilitate and streamline the configuration process of satellite navigation systems, such as GPS.
“Today, solar weather forecasts are based on the analysis of historical statistical data from ion probes located in different parts of the globe, i.e. specialized antenna equipment transmitting radio impulses with a frequency of 1-20 MHz towards the sky,” said Maciej Krzyżanowski, PhD, President of the Managemetn Board of CloudFerro Sp. z o.o. “These pulses are reflected from the ionosphere back to the receiver in the form of an ‘echo’. The analysis of this echo allows for assessing the state and structure of the individual layers of the ionosphere. Our solution will make it possible to automatically collect data from numerous ion probes and analyze them on an ongoing basis in a computing cloud.”
The project is carried out by a Polish consortium led by Warsaw-based CloudFerro sp. z o.o. known for its involvement in the innovative EO Cloud and EO DIAS platforms. Other consortium members include the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and Creotech Instruments S.A.
The Pogodynka project was commissioned by the European Space Operations Center (ESOC) located in Darmstadt, Germany, which is part of the European Space Agency. Formally initiated in late 2017, the project will run for 18 months and boasts a budget of EUR 200 thousand.