Space weather satellite Vigil is being built in Britain for early warning

A satellite will be built in Britain that will provide an early warning system for potentially dangerous space weather.

Airbus has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to design and build the space weather forecasting satellite Vigil.

The spacecraft will provide crucial additional warnings about incoming solar storms and coronal mass ejections that could potentially disrupt satellites in orbit and electronic and power distribution systems on Earth.

Data from Vigil could report four to five days of solar wind flowing toward Earth.

Airbus’ chief systems engineer, Dr. Michelle Sprake, told the PA news agency that spacecraft will be able to see how coronal mass ejections form on the Sun’s surface before they are even sent out.

She added that it will also allow forecasters to “see these events from our point of view and potentially get about four or five days’ warning, because we can see parts of the sun that we normally can’t see. of earth”.

Dr. Sprake continued: “We will be able to see these events take place before they have completely rotated and aligned with Earth.

“So the idea is to get better predictive ability and also what they call ‘nowcasting’.”

Patrick Wood, Head of Space Systems UK, Airbus Defense and Space, said: “Vigil is one of the most exciting and important space missions that will not only improve our understanding of the Sun’s behavior but, crucially, also give us earlier warning and greater precision about potentially damaging solar weather.

“Space weather forecasters will be able to see what’s coming from the sun and provide more accurate warnings.”

Vigil will be positioned at Lagrange point L5 in the same orbit as Earth, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) behind the planet as it orbits the sun.

From its position, Vigil will complement other satellites that monitor the Sun from closer to Earth.

Among the most potentially damaging events are coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun, consisting of a magnetized plasma containing protons, electrons and other charged particles.

In 1989, a major geomagnetic storm hit Earth and caused a nine-hour blackout of electricity transmission through Quebec.

By providing advance warning of such events, power companies and authorities can temporarily shut down systems to protect them from power surges and ensure they can be turned back on quickly after the danger has passed.

The spacecraft, to be built in Britain, will carry instruments developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory, Florence-based Leonardo SpA, Germany’s Max Planck Institute, London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory and Imperial College London .

NASA delivers Vigil’s sixth instrument, an extreme ultraviolet camera.

Launching in 2031, Vigil will be the first ESA spacecraft to be positioned at L5 and is designed to operate in orbit for more than 7.5 years.

Andrew Griffith, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “Space weather generates stunning phenomena such as the recent displays of the Northern Lights across our skies – but it also poses a real risk to our way of life, which is increasingly dependent on of space and satellite services.

“The Vigil mission will transform our understanding of the impact of potentially hazardous solar events and I congratulate Airbus here in the UK for taking the lead in this important mission.”

Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA, said: “Vigil will be Europe’s first 24/7 operational space weather satellite, which will provide valuable time for the protection of critical infrastructure such as power grids or mobile communications networks on Earth, as well as valuable satellites in orbit , including the International Space Station.

“Vigil will dramatically improve both the turnaround time of space weather warnings and their level of detail from its unique vantage point in deep space.”

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