Satellite technologies are an essential part of a modern society. Any disruption to these important communication systems can have significant consequences for millions of people. An important source of possible disruption is from the Sun through its interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field. Such disruption can cause damage to satellites and affect power grids at the Earth's surface.

Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have used model codes to determine a forecast to predict the effects of the Sun’s activity on the Earth. Algorithms are then used to predict the effect on satellites orbiting the Earth. A host of collaborators, including the Environmental Data Service (EDS) and UK Met Office, have worked with BAS to build a workflow to take in this satellite data and run models to produce risk-indicators for satellite disruption. These data are available via the UK Polar Data Centre where they can be browsed, searched and viewed.

Modern society is dependent upon global electronic information flows and the systems that support these transfers, such as power transmission lines and satellite communications technology. How many of us could manage, be it for pleasure or work, without GPS positioning, real-time banking, access to the internet, international sports coverage or speaking to loved ones overseas? The recent global pandemic has only increased our reliance on such infrastructure. These systems are vulnerable to disruption, at the local level that may be due to power station failure, a poorly tested software update, earthquake, or even malicious intent; however, dangers lurk further afield which if not mediated could cause extreme global upset affecting millions of people. The source of the issue? - our Sun.

The Sun is a dynamic system, the activity of which varies through ~11-year cycles, some of these events can cause ejections of high energy plasmas which if they interact with the Earth's magnetic field can cause severe damage to satellite assets and affect power grids at the Earth's surface, as happened in Quebec, Canada in 1989.

The British Antarctic Survey's Space Weather group led by Professor Richard Horne, have developed model codes to determine a forecast to predict the effects of the Sun’s activity on the Earth's radiation belts up to 24 hours ahead. The modelled data is then passed through a suite of algorithms to predict effects on satellites at various orbits around the earth, including those at geostationary orbit (~36000 km) where many telecommunications satellites and those used by broadcasters reside.

Funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), and working with Richard and his partners in the UK Met Office and DHC Consultancy, Belgium, the Environmental Data Service (EDS) affiliated UK Polar Data Centre (PDC) took responsibility for building a data and computation workflow (SaRIF) to ingest satellite and supporting data, compute model boundary conditions, implemented the BAS radiation belt model to run autonomously on an hourly schedule and send the resulting data to Belgium for onward risk-indicator calculations; these are then returned as data files from which PDC produced plots. The outputs are directed towards a PDC developed website through which the data can be browsed, searched, and viewed. Being under contract to ESA also meant installing single sign-on capability as the system is a federated service of the ESA Space Weather Environment service ( The infrastructure on which the system operates was also set up by the PDC, utilizing Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure.

Though of significant scientific and operational merit this project would not have been possible without the specialist skills and resources that lie within the dedicated data archiving and provisioning centre that is the UK Polar Data Centre.