instruments designed and tasked for scientific missions. Baker raised the question: Should our operational capacity for space weather monitoring be dependent on scientific instruments and satellites? Is it prudent to rely in this way on “the kindness of strangers”?
Pursuing this theme, several participants commented on a perceived fragility, or lack of robustness, in the nation’s capacity for space weather monitoring. John Kappenman (Metatech Corporation) observed that many key parts of the system have no backups: single points of failure, he argued, could substantially degrade or even halt operations. A critical weakness in the present system, noted by a number of participants, is the reliance on the aging Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft as virtually the nation’s sole upstream solar wind monitor. ACE, positioned at L1,1 is now 11 years old, well beyond its planned operational life, and the detector heads are losing gain. “There could be an electronic failure,” Charles Holmes (NASA Headquarters) pointed out. “So it is a vulnerable system.”
As Baker noted, the loss of L1 solar wind measurements such as are provided by ACE “would be a devastating loss to the national space weather capability.” In a presentation given the previous day, Thomas Bodgan of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center listed as one of NOAA’s “critical new directions” to “secure [an] operational L1 monitor.” It was clear from the comments of the participants, however, that no clear replacement for ACE is coming on line soon. Devrie Intriligator (Carmel Research Center, Inc.) noted that the possibility of an L1 monitor supplied by private industry had been discussed at other workshops. Although the Chinese are planning an L1 monitor as part of the KuaFu space weather project, it will not be launched for several years. Moreover, as William Murtagh (NOAA) cautioned, national security concerns must be taken into account when decisions about the follow-on to ACE are being made. On an encouraging note, Murtagh reported that the NASA Authorization Act (House Rule 6063, Section 1101) charges the Office of Science and Technology Policy to work with NOAA, NASA, other federal agencies, and industry to develop a plan for sustaining solar wind measurements from an L1-based spacecraft.
Observations have limited value, of course, if not paired with a capacity for converting raw data into useful information. Several participants addressed the perceived adequacy or shortcomings of the models, data series, and other assets needed to convert observations into useful predictions.
What kinds of predictions would be useful? One workshop participant asserted that the chief desire of industry is for 24-hour advance warnings of severe space weather events. Another participant highlighted the utility of “all-clear” windows, i.e., predictions indicating periods during which the probabilities of severe space weather events are deemed very low.
The conversation turned to consider the resources and breakthroughs that would be required to offer such forecasts, as distinct from information on present space weather conditions. A few participants argued that advances in the capacity for prediction will require breakthroughs in basic understanding of solar processes. There is, it was suggested, a need for better structural models of space weather informed, for example, by space physics. Another participant noted the lack of a well-organized system for collecting and archiving historical data on space weather conditions. A good data archive was held to be essential for calibrating any models used for prediction. Still another participant noted the importance of systems for transferring technology from research to operations.
Much of the discussion appeared to support, explicitly or implicitly, the proposition that the nation does in fact need a strong capacity for producing predictions and warnings about space weather events. One participant, though, offered a contrarian view. Thomas Stansell (Stansell Consulting) argued that attention should focus first not on prediction, but on mitigation—on construction of hardened infrastructure able to continue operations without interruptions straight through severe space weather events. For electric power delivery, satellite operations, and other core systems, he claimed, extended service interruptions are unacceptable: hardened systems are essential. Better mitigation would in turn make prediction less valuable. Advances in mitigation, Stansell argued, would undermine the rationale for allocating resources toward monitoring space weather conditions, or predicting severe space weather events. A strategy based on mitigation would also imply different priorities for research.