Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!


Warning Systems
A space warning system is vital to protect astronauts in orbit. This is astronaut Ed Gibson on Skylab-4.
A space warning system is vital to protect astronauts in orbit. This is astronaut Ed Gibson on Skylab-4.
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

For SPACECAST to work, Europe must invest in sensors both in space and on the ground. There are several independent sensor systems located in countries across Europe. But these systems depend upon separate sources of funding to stay active. Should the system in one country go offline due to lack of funds, Europe would lose a significant part of what could be a comprehensive warning system.

For that reason, scientists like Richard Horne have recommended a project like SPACECAST to unite these efforts. Not only will a unified approach mean better communication and data collection, but also security in the face of financial cutbacks. Much of SPACECAST's appeal is due to its potential financial impact. To make SPACECAST viable, scientists had to convince politicians that Europe's own warning system could save countries billions of dollars in losses.

In the past, Europe relied on programs like NASA to warn of solar storms and geomagnetic activity. But those systems don't dedicate focus to Europe. The scientists responsible for SPACECAST argued that a European project will provide better protection than a general program. At the same time, SPACECAST scientists will work with NASA to share information and build knowledge.

There are several industries that could benefit from a warning system besides power companies and organizations operating satellites. Companies that drill for gas and oil use magnetic readings to guide instruments. A geomagnetic storm could introduce instrumentation errors, which could lead to mistakes costing billions of dollars. And the airline industry might reschedule flights based on solar activity -- at higher elevations, the Earth's atmosphere provides less protection against harmful solar radiation.

SPACECAST will be an evolutionary project. Before scientists can implement a full warning system, they will have to study the effects of radiation belts and solar activities on satellites. They'll need to build on our understanding of the sun's activity and when we might expect to feel the effects of a solar storm. But it's a step toward ensuring that solar activity won't adversely affect Europeans' lives.

Learn more about solar events and space by following the links on the next page.