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Managing ESA’s Space Weather Service Network

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Conditions on the Sun can directly or indirectly lead to potentially hazardous and sudden effects on some human activities in space or on Earth. To support the evaluation and mitigation of those effects, ESA started in 2008 the setup of a Space Weather Service Network to provide timely and reliable space weather information to the different user communities. Since February 2021, B.USOC is leading a consortium of 52 teams all over Europe in charge of operating, developing and improving this network of services.
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Awareness and monitoring of this dynamic space environment and its hazardous impacts are obviously important for the space industry such as spacecraft operators, human space flight and service providers of satellite navigation. They are also of interest to terrestrial industries such as airlines, electricity suppliers and surveying companies.

In order to provide valuable space weather information to those end users, the European Space Agency (ESA) started combining European assets in a single Space Weather Service Network, i.e. ground- and space-based space weather monitoring systems, data-processing capabilities, modelling tools and expert teams.

This was implemented through a series of procurements related to the different structuring elements of this network: five Expert Service Centres (ESCs) focusing respectively on:

  • Solar Weather
  • Heliospheric Weather
  • Space Radiation
  • Ionospheric Weather
  • Geomagnetic Conditions
  • a central Data Centre
  • a Coordination Centre (SSCC, SSA Space Weather Coordination Centre).

In July 2020, ESA issued a new invitation to tender merging the activities of the SSCC and the five ECSs in a single procurement.

Belgium on center stage

From the beginning, Belgium is strongly involved in ESA programmes addressing space weather. In addition to several assets operated by Belgian teams, the Solar Weather and Space Radiation ESCs are coordinated by the Royal Observatory of Belgium (ROB) and the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB), respectively, and they jointly manage the SSCC.

It is thus quite naturally that a Belgian team manages the response to the ESA call in coordination with a core team representing ROB, BIRA-IASB, Technical University of Denmark, DLR Ionosphere Monitoring and Prediction Center and RAL Space. 

The resulting proposal, led by B.USOC was submitted in September 2020, and after some lengthy negotiations, the pre-operational activities started on February 11, 2021, and the development activities on July 8, 2021. 

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Figure 2 caption (legend)
Map identifying per country the entities participating to the SWESNET Consortium carrying out the pre-operational activities of the ESA Space Weather Service Network, with in the background an illustration of the future ESA Vigil mission (credit: ESA/A. Baker, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
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