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Benefits of Space Weather Monitoring

The term "space weather" describes the ever-changing conditions of the sun, capable of affecting technological systems on Earth. These phenomena, known as space weather events, encompass solar storms, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and geomagnetic storms resulting from their interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field. These events can disrupt critical infrastructure such as power grids, satellite systems, radio communication networks, surveillance systems, aviation systems, and Global Navigation Satellite Systems, while also posing risks to safety of astronauts.

As society increasingly relies on modern technology, it becomes more vulnerable to the impacts of space weather events. Extreme space weather events, like the Carrington event of September 1859, which caused widespread failures in global telegraph communication systems, demonstrate the potential for significant economic losses. Similarly, the solar storm of March 1889 severely affected Hydro-Quebec's electricity transmission system in Canada, leaving millions without power for nine hours.

In addition to power grid failures, solar storms can cause other effects, including degradation or loss of High Frequency (HF) radio transmission and satellite navigation signals. These disruptions lead to communication loss and errors in Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). Moreover, increased radiation levels pose health risks to astronauts during spacewalks and to aircraft users, particularly those on polar routes. Intense and less intense solar storms can induce geomagnetic storms when directed towards Earth, further impacting these technological systems.
Due to the growing awareness of the potential effects of extreme space weather, governments in numerous countries now consider space weather events a risk to the world economy and society. The Kenya Space Agency in a bid to protect our space-dependent technological systems from the adverse effects of space weather, is establishing a national space weather monitoring centre that will be responsible for monitoring the sun and its activities, as the main source of space weather, in order to provide information, early warnings and forecasts on space weather conditions. This will be done using domestic and international space weather monitoring infrastructure.

Currently the Agency has a network of sensors such as GNSS receivers and Magnetometers that are used to track changes of the near-earth space environment (that depicts the status of space weather conditions) and utilizes the data for generation of space weather products and services for human benefit. This facility will majorly contribute towards improving local space science research and enable Kenya to create its own space know-how, providing real solutions to everyday challenges such as GNSS positioning errors. Therefore, the contribution of space weather products and services to sectors such as aviation, defence, telecommunications, surveillance and power for operations, and in academia for research purposes is critical.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation currently requires space weather information to be provided alongside meteorological information for Air Navigation Services. It requires States providing space weather advisory information to monitor relevant ground-based, airborne and space-based observations to detect, and predict when possible, the existence of space weather phenomena that have an impact in High frequency (HF) radio communications, communications via satellite, GNSS-based navigation and surveillance, and radiation exposure at flight levels, as well as issue advisory information regarding the extent, severity and duration of the space weather phenomena. 

In conclusion, the Kenya Space Agency's involvement in space weather monitoring is crucial as it helps protect space-dependent technological systems from potential adverse effects, ensures early warnings and forecasts on space weather conditions, enhances local space science research capabilities, and fosters the development of solutions for addressing challenges like GNSS positioning errors, ultimately contributing to the advancement and resilience of Kenya's space endeavours and technological infrastructure.

To engage on this further, join us at the Kenya Space Expo and Conference from 18th to 20th June 2024 at the Edge Convention Centre in Nairobi.

The table on the right lists the thresholds for the various types of space weather events affecting aviation.

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