The establishment of the Bureau of Meteorology‘s spaceflight capability integrates meteorological and space weather expertise to provide the best outcomes for the spaceflight sector. A win-win for Australia’s growing space industry.
As the national authority for both terrestrial and space weather, the Bureau sees its spaceflight capability as an opportunity to continue to deliver essential and continuous operational weather services to inform the safety, security, and prosperity to the space domain.
We caught up with Zandria Farrell, the National Manager for Space at the Bureau of Meteorology who explained that spaceflight refers to any activity that puts a spacecraft into space, from launching a rocket to deploying a satellite in space.
“Both meteorological and space weather information is essential to support successful and safe spaceflight activities. It helps reduce risks to mission success from the ground and then in orbit,” she said.
For example, at the launch of the SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation in February 2022, it was reported that up to 40 satellites were lost due to a space weather event.
And the launch failure rate for uncrewed space missions can be up to 30%, with weather (rain, lightening and wind) a key determinant of triumph or disaster for a rocket launch.
“Our spaceflight team is working closely with the space launch industry to tailor forecasts and warnings to their specific needs depending on the launch location and rocket type,” she said.
“Our expertise is also supporting decision making by increasing the awareness of terrestrial and space weather impacts on Defence/Government operations in collaboration with partners to support Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Domain Awareness (SDA).
“SSA and SDA refer to keeping track of objects in orbit and predicting where they will be at any given time. The space environment plays a big part in how a spacecraft behaves, so space weather information is essential data for these organisations to do what they need to do”.
Collaborative solutions for complex problems
Both space weather and terrestrial weather have significant impacts for getting spacecraft into space.
To tackle this, the Bureau’s spaceflight capability works in close engagement with space launch operators including Lot Fourteen tenants Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) and Southern Launch, offering expertise in both terrestrial meteorological and space weather intelligence.
Southern Launch’s chief executive officer, Lloyd Damp, said that timely forecast data was key to ensuring a safe launch and the company’s global customers appreciate the close relationship the company has with the Bureau. He says, “the data we get from the Bureau is vital to our launch preparations. It helps us select optimal launch times and develop up-to-date models of predicted launch trajectories.”
ELA, that has 90 per cent of its team based out of Stone & Chalk’s Startup Hub, has an impressive client roster, including NASA, and is working closely with the Bureau on its Arnhem Space Centre in Northern Territory.
Ben Tett, General Manager of Operations and Launch, ELA says, “the ability for ELA to work with The Bureau team allows us to better support our clients in managing and maintaining their launch schedules.”
The Bureau is also collaborating with the Australian Space Agency (ASA), whose headquarters is also at Lot Fourteen.
The co-location of these two federal government agencies, the Bureau and ASA, alongside space launch operators at Lot Fourteen, has been a carefully curated strategy from the inception of Lot Fourteen’s innovation district, driving collaboration and innovation in the heart of Adelaide.
Lot Fourteen: the centre for space weather monitoring in Australia
The Bureau’s Australian Space Weather Forecasting Centre (ASWFC) monitors real-life space weather events from Lot Fourteen, from solar flares to geomagnetic storms and accompanying auroras.
From its Adelaide base, the ASWFC observes and forecasts space weather conditions, including solar activity, and geophysical and ionospheric conditions.
Across Australia, Antarctica, and the South Pacific, the Bureau manages an extensive multi-instrument network of magnetometers, ionosondes and other sensors. The ASWFC acts as the regional warning centre for the Australian region, as a member of the International Space Environment Service, and is part of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s global space weather advisory service for aviation.
Space weather can disrupt many of Australia’s critical services. This includes interruption to Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation, radio communications, damaging power grids, threatening satellite transmissions and instruments (including avionics in extreme circumstances), affecting aviation and air travel safety and reducing the life of satellites in low earth orbits.
As our reliance on technology grows, so does the impact of space weather events.
Ms Farrell says integral space weather intelligence from the Australian Space Weather Forecasting Centre is incorporated in spaceflight capability to provide real time and historical observations to support space operators.
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