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Failure of Aging Satellites Could Leave U.S. Partially Blind to Space Weather

2 Mar 2020, 08:35 UTC
Failure of Aging Satellites Could Leave U.S. Partially Blind to Space Weather
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Diagam of DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas MessierManaging Editor

Tne failures of three aging satellites the United States relies upon to forecast space weather could leave the nation partially blind to electromagnetic storms that could severely disrupt electrical grids, communications systems, aviation and Global Positioning System (GPS) dependent navigation.

“The observations that we rely on to provide alerts and warnings are critical. Should we lose some of the key spacecraft that we talk about, I won’t say we’re blind but we’re darn close. It will impact our ability to support this nation’s need for space weather services. And I don’t want to see that happen,” said William Murtagh, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Murtagh made the remarks in recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The committee held a hearing on the government’s effort to monitor space weather, track satellites and debris in Earth orbit, and defend the planet against asteroid and comet impacts.

Space weather is a result of sunspots erupting from magnetically stressed areas on the sun. The magnetically charged particles cause disruptions when they interact with the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field.

“We have no real capability ...

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