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A prototype space weather service for the Van Allen radiation belts

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Space assets can be easily damaged by high energy particles during strong geomagnetic storms driven by events at the Sun heading towards the Earth, like CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections) or CIRs (Corotating Interaction Regions). The EU H2020 SafeSpace project built a prototype service contributing to the safety of space assets against the natural hazards of space weather. This was achieved through the combination of 10 numerical models from the Sun to the Van Allen radiation belts of the Earth. BIRA-IASB was involved in the plasmasphere part of this modelling chain.
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BIRA-IASB’s plasmasphere model

The plasmasphere is a region of the Earth’s inner magnetosphere, filled with dense, low energy plasma of ionospheric origin, forming a toroidal region around the Earth. Its outer boundary is called the plasmapause.

The BIRA-IASB plasmasphere model is a 3D kinetic dynamic model of the plasmasphere coupled to the empirical International Reference Ionosphere (IRI) model as boundary condition. The plasmapause position is determined by using the mechanism of interchange instability.

The SafeSpace Project

SafeSpace was a scientific research project funded by Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme, that kicked off in January 2020 and lasted 3 years. The project aimed at advancing space weather radiation risk nowcasting and forecasting capabilities and, consequently, at contributing to the safety of space assets through the transition of powerful space weather prediction tools from research to operations.

To ensure an efficient and optimized transfer from science to application, a close collaboration between academia and research institutes (NKUA, ONERA, KU Leuven, IAP, UPS, BIRA-IASB), a major partner from the European space industry (TAS) and a space-oriented enterprise (SPARC) has been built.

This team improved radiation belt modelling through the incorporation of processes and parameters that are of major importance to radiation belt dynamics into an existing physical model (Salammbô). The plasmapause position obtained from the plasmasphere model serves as input for the wave-particle interaction models and the density data as input for the Salammbô data assimilation.

Main results

The ultimate result of the project is a sophisticated model of the electron radiation belt and a space weather service prototype with tailored radiation belt environment indicators, which provides space weather forecasts for three different typical orbits around the Earth, low (LEO), medium (MEO) and geostationary (GEO) orbit, with lead times of 4 days.

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Dahmen, N., Sicard, A., Brunet, A., Santolik, O., Pierrard, V., Botek, E., and Darrouzet, F. (2022). FARWEST: Efficient computation of wave-particle interactions for a dynamic description of the electron radiation belt diffusion. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 127(10), e2022JA030518,

Pierrard, V., Botek, E., and Darrouzet, F. (2021). Improving Predictions of the 3D Dynamic Model of the Plasmasphere. Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, 8:681401,

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The flow of the SafeSpace project.
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Example of radiation belt environmental indicators for three different typical orbits (LEO, MEO, GEO) delivered by the SafeSpace project.
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