Taiwan provided six COSMIC-2 spacecraft under a contract with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Credit: SSTL

BOSTON – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is preparing to update its aging space weather fleet with instruments to gather imagery of coronal mass ejection and monitor solar winds.

Congress provided NOAA funding in the 2020 budget for Space Weather Follow On (SWFO), a satellite destined for Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 1. The Commerce Department also gave NOAA the green light in 2019 to begin procuring elements of SWFO, which is designed to carry on work performed by NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory launched in 2015 and the joint European Space Agency-NASA Solar and Heliophysics Observatory launched in 1995.

SWFO, a small satellite, is scheduled to ride into orbit in 2024 as a secondary payload on the launch of NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), a heliophysics mission. The SWFO satellite will house the Naval Research Laboratory’s Compact Coronagraph and suite of instruments to measure solar wind.

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 storms and solar radiation storms.

To gather additional space weather observations, NOAA is preparing to send a second Compact Coronagraph into orbit in 2025 on Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U.

“That’s a pathfinder for future capabilities,” Elsayed Talaat, NOAA Office of Projects, Planning and Analysis director, said Jan. 13 at the American Meteorological Society conference here. In the future, NOAA may elect to mount coronagraphs on all its geostationary satellites to obtain reliable, round-the-clock data, he added.

NOAA plans to send commands to the SWFO mission in S-band and to downlink science data in X-band. Although the agency’s primary communications facilities are in Virginia on Wallops Island, NOAA  is looking for domestic and international partners to provide additional downlink capability, Talaat said.

NOAA’s space weather fleet includes the six-satellite Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate-2 (COSMIC-2), a joint U.S.-Taiwanese program to gather radio occultation soundings in equatorial orbits.

Since NOAA launched the COSMIC-2 satellites in July, the agency has been moving the spacecraft into their orbits. To date, only one has reached its proper position.

Nevertheless, NOAA already has determined that the quality of COSMIC-2 ionospheric data are as good or better than data from COSMIC-1, Talaat said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...