Variations in space weather have the potential to disrupt the electric power grid, telecommunications and Global Positioning Systems — virtually all public infrastructure. To predict such disruptions, a comprehensive space weather forecasting system could cost between $1 billion and $2 billion during the next decade, space scientists told members of the House Space, Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday.
Costs would include replacing the Advanced Composition Explorer satellite, which provides data for geomagnetic storm warnings issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which has operated 13 years beyond its two-year design life, LauraFurgione, acting director of the National Weather Service, told the committee’s panel on space and aeronautics.
Furgione said the ACE satellite represents the “single point of failure” for critical geomagnetic storm measurements and NOAA planned to replace it with the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite that NASA developed and placed in storage in November 2001. NOAA plans to launch DSCOVR in 2014, but Furgione told the hearing that it too has a two-year design life.
NOAA will have to consider a variety of options to replace these two key spacecraft, including hosting payloads on commercial satellites, using space weather information provided by other countries and commercial space weather data, Furgione said.
Charles Gay, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, testified that research missions the agency’s multisatellite Heliophysics Explorer program conducted can be adapted to provide solar, solar wind and near-Earth observations essential for NOAA’s space weather forecasting mission. He added NASA has agreed to work with the European Space Agency on a Solar Orbiter Collaboration project that will use a new satellite slated for launch in 2017 to help where solar winds, plasma and magnetic fields originate in the sun’s corona.