Los Alamos National LaboratorySHIELDS
Shielding society from space weather

Space Hazards Induced Near Earth by Large Dynamic Storms: Understanding, Modeling and Predicting

Our society is increasingly dependent on technologies susceptible to harmful conditions in space; e.g., Galaxy 15, a $250M telecommunication satellite in geosynchronous orbit, failed to operate in 2010 due to a space storm, and its recovery operation cost about $3.5M. Predicting space weather hazards remains a big space physics challenge due to the complex multi-scale nature of the magnetosphere. SHIELDS (Space Hazards Induced Near Earth by Large Dynamic Storms) addresses this challenge.

Approximate location of geosynchronous orbit spacecraft — projected to the Earth’s equator.
Approximate location of geosynchronous orbit spacecraft — projected to the Earth’s equator.

What we are doing...

  • We are addressing this challenge using a cross-Laboratory team, LANL state-of-the-art models, computational facilities and data from national security payloads.
  • We are developing an end-to-end model of the magnetosphere driven by the dynamic solar wind that can predict one of the most harmful space weather hazards, the spacecraft surface charging environment (SCE) and assist spacecraft design and hazard mitigation.

The primary SCE source is the low-energy (10s of keV) hot plasma injected from the magnetotail into the inner magnetosphere during substorms (magnetospheric reconfiguration events). Our SHIELDS framework specifies the dynamics of the hot particles (the seed population for the radiation belts) on both macro- and micro-scale, including substorms and plasma waves that accelerate particles to relativistic energies.

New data assimilation techniques employing data from LANL instruments on Van Allen Probes and geosynchronous satellites are being applied for the first time to the global model. This research provides a framework for understanding the near-Earth space environment where operational satellites reside. The ability to reliably distinguish between various modes of failure is critically important in anomaly resolution and forensics.

SHIELDS strengthens the Laboratory's role in Space Weather programs, an emerging area of critical importance to LANL’s Global Security Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Energy Security missions.