4 Mar 2012

Solar storm forecast system developed

6:28 am on 4 March 2012

Scientists in Britain said on Friday they have developed a forecast system to help protect navigation and communications satellites from solar storms.

Damage from a massive burst of solar energy could knock out GPS (global positioning system) satellites and send them veering into the paths of other craft or scramble their communications.

A team from the British Antarctic Survey will lead researchers from six European countries will use satellite data and ground-based measurements of the earth's magnetic field to forecast changes in radiation.

That will allow them to alert satellite operators of a sudden increase in dangerous particles and give them time to move the craft out of harm's way, power them down or fold their wings away.

GPS satellites orbit closer to the earth, passing through the Van Allen belt - a magnetic field that surrounds the planet.

"We know that the radiation levels there are much higher than in geostationary orbit.'' said BAS researcher Richard Horne who led the project

Growth in GPS system satellites means that monitoring space close to earth is increasingly important.

The risk of storms is growing. An 11-year activity cycle of the sun is set to begin a peak of stormy activity in 2012-13.

The price of the system is 2.54 million euros ($US3.39 million).

In 2003, a geo-magnetic storm caused more than 47 satellites to go haywire and led to the loss of one satellite valued at $US640 million.

BAS estimates that a ''superstorm'' like one in 1859, would cause $US30 billion of damage to satellites alone.