Space Weather

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Space weather can have a big impact on ops

What is Space Weather?

Space weather refers to things like:

  • Solar flares: A large eruption of electromagnetic radiation which increases ionisation levels in the Earth’s ionosphere
  • Coronal mass ejections: A large expulsions of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s corona which can impact Earth’s magnetic field
  • Solar radiation storms: The result of large CMEs and solar flares
  • Geomagnetic storms: A major disturbance in the Earth’s magnetosphere caused by solar winds
  • Solar winds: A flow of protons and electrons (plasma) from the sun which contains a magnetic field

What’s the impact for aviation?

There are various impacts on aviation from the different types space weather:

  • GPS systems: GPS signals travel through the Earth’s ionosphere from the satellite to a receiver on the ground. Increases in charged plasma in the ionosphere bends the path of the signals and reduces the accuracy of position calculations by the receivers
    • EGNOS, WAAS, other GPS overlay systems may be lost or have reduced accuracy leading to the loss of LPV approaches
    • Aircraft navigation accuracy may be impacted
  • Satellite Communications: Increased plasma levels can impact attenuation and absorption of signals, and cause interference or loss of signals
    • Loss of SATCOM and datalink and other satellite based comms systems
  • HF Radio Communications: HF signals can suffer interference and absorption, blocking and disruption with changes in ionosphere density
    • HF blackouts and disruption in areas where HF is the primary comms system (NAT HLA)
  • Electrical power transmissions: Severe space weather can disrupt national grids, causing issues with power supplies, and potential disruption
    • Potential disruption from loss of backup services, or indirect knock on effects
  • Radiation levels: Cosmic radiation levels for crew must be monitored, particularly crew operating regularly at higher latitudes
    • Actual values should be monitored

How to watch it

There are various places for operators to monitor and assess space weather, and to help plan for potential impacts:

  • NOAA space weather prediction centre: Provides forecasts of R (Radio Blackouts), S (Solar Radiation) and G (Geomagnetic Storm) impacts
  • European Space Agency/EUSPA: Requires registration, but provides real time monitoring of the EGNOS, WAAS and space weather conditions
  • ICAO NAT Doc 006: Contains information on space weather contingencies in case of major HF blackouts

For Pilots:

  • Ensure your operator is including space weather information in your flight briefing packs
  • Take a brief look at NOAA
  • Understand the NOAA scales and what they might mean for your ops
  • Ensure you are aware of contingency procedures for HF blackouts, especially for NAT HLA ops
  • Ask for info on your cosmic radiation levels if not provided
  • Have a backup plan if intending to fly a procedure reliant on GPS

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