NOAA seeks continuity of space weather observations

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SAN FRANCISCO — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is looking ahead to a future generation of space weather instruments.

The agency’s first priority is ensuring the continuity of measurements to be made by the Space Weather Follow-On (SWFO) mission sensor suite scheduled to travel to Lagrange Point 1 in 2025 on NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration probe.

Because the NASA mission is designed to operate for only five years, “we need to plan for the continuity and hopefully resilience of that capability upstream of Earth,” Elsayed Talaat, Projects, Planning and Analysis director in the NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, said Jan. 24 at the annual American Meteorological Society meeting.

An analysis of alternatives for the mission after SWFO L1 will consider various orbital slots along the sun-Earth line, Talaat said at the virtual meeting.

NOAA is the U.S. government agency charged with monitoring space weather and issuing alerts, watches and warning. NOAA issues alerts, for example, concerning geomagnetic and solar radiation storms.

In addition to observing the sun from deep space, NOAA will consider how best to maintain its ability to gather space weather data in geostationary orbit beyond Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U, a mission scheduled to launch in 2024.

Unlike its predecessors in the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series, GOES-U includes a Compact Coronagraph to detect coronal mass ejections.

NOAA also will need to make plans to continue collecting space weather data in low Earth orbit as the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite missions conclude, Talaat said. “How we can do that in in a cost effective manner,” he asked.

Ball Aerospace won a contract in 2020 to build, integrate and operate the SWFO L1 spacecraft for NOAA. SWFO L1 instruments include the Naval Research Laboratory’s Compact Coronagraphthe Supra Thermal Ion Sensor from the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, and a magnetometer from the Southwest Research Institute.

L3Harris won a contract to develop and deploy SWFO’s ground system command and control network.