After decades of preparation, the nation’s first operational space weather mission into deep space is expected to launch tonight. The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite is a collaboration between NASA, NOAA, and the Air Force that will provide real-time monitoring of solar winds.
Occasionally the sun has large eruptions of magnetic field energetic particles. This kind of surge, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), could collide with the Earth’s electromagnetic fields and cause geomagnetic storms. The storms could potentially disrupt major infrastructure systems, including power grids, telecommunications, aviation, and GPS. As we rely more on advanced technologies, forecasting potentially damaging solar weather is more important than ever.
DSCOVR will be located in the L1 orbit, about a million miles away from Earth, directly in line with the sun. The constant stream of particles from the sun reaches L1 about an hour before reaching Earth, which will allow NOAA to observe the data and provide 15-60 minute warnings before solar weather events such as geomagnetic storms reach Earth’s magnetic field. The data that DSCOVR collects will be critical to the accuracy and lead time of NOAA’s space weather alerts and forecasts. Experts warn that an extreme solar storm could cause trillions of dollars in damage. DSCOVR will be the first line of defense, providing advanced warnings.