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£20 million to accelerate British research into forecasting space weather


£20 million to accelerate British research into forecasting space weather

British satellites will be better protected through a £20m boost to predict severe space weather events, the PM has announced today whilst at the UN General Assembly.

Space weather, such as flares or winds from the Sun’s surface or geomagnetic storms, can damage our satellites, cause power disruptions, issues to air transportation, and disruption across communications systems, such as GPS and mobile phone networks.

The £20m announced today nearly quadruples investment from government into research that can improve systems at the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre. This will build the UK’s knowledge on how to forecast and better prepare for these space weather events.

This new fund, delivered through the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund, will be used to look closely at space weather innovation, measurement, modelling and risk assessment. By predicting when and where space weather events take place, the Met Office can issue warnings and advice that will allow operators to take necessary action, such as manoeuvring satellites and isolating parts of the power network to ensure the least amount of disruption possible.

The UK will also be able to share forecasts with other space weather centres around the world, including the US Space Weather Prediction Centre.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“From solar flares to magnetic storms, space weather can have a massive impact on mobile phones, transport, GPS signals and the electricity networks we rely on every day at home.

“The funding announced today will help turn Britain’s pioneering research into practical solutions that will protect against any adverse disruption caused by cosmic chaos.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said:

“UK space and engineering expertise is vital to ensure our communications, navigation and power networks are prepared for and protected from severe space weather events.

“This investment reflects the UK’s leadership in space weather science and engineering activities. Through the Strategic Priorities Fund, UKRI is bringing together policy makers, academia and business to drive collaborations that will tackle some of the key questions in these fields.”

SWIMMR (Space Weather Instrumentation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk) is a four-year programme that will look to improve the UK’s capabilities for space weather monitoring and prediction. There will be an emphasis on space radiation, which can affect aircraft systems, changes in the upper atmosphere, affecting communications, and surges in the current in power grids and other ground-level systems. These are significant risks to infrastructures we rely on in daily life and are recorded in the UK’s National Risk Register.

The Strategic Priorities Fund is being delivered by UKRI to drive an increase in high quality multi- and interdisciplinary research and innovation; ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research priorities and opportunities; and ensure the system responds to strategic priorities and opportunities. The announcement today follows the recent announcement of four health-themed Strategic Priorities Fund programmes. Further programmes will be announced in the coming months.

Find out more about the work UKRI’s Science and Technology Facilities Council and Natural Environment Research Council are doing as part of this programme.

Space Weather, Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk: ‘SWIMMR’  

Funding: £20 million over 4 years 

Space Weather (SW) can be defined as solar eruptions that can disrupt modern technologies and damage human health. There are still major gaps in SW risk assessment and our ability to forecast, which leaves the UK vulnerable. Our goal is to provide a strategic UK approach to Space Weather, transitioning research into operations, according to user needs.  

The benefits are: 

  • Coordination across UKRI 
  • Interdisciplinary research to fulfil user needs 
  • World leading forecasting capability to protect UK assets 
  • Tailored risk assessments for the UK risk register 
  • New data streams to compensate for the loss of Galileo 
  • Enhanced international collaboration  
  • Innovative technologies 

This programme is being led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in collaboration with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Met Office, Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport.

The project will be delivered via commissioned research and open research calls.

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