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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead supervisor: Richard Horne, British Antarctic Survey

Co-supervisor: Sarah GlauertBritish Antarctic Survey; Giulio Del-Zanna, DAMTP 

Brief summary: 
To develop a space weather and climate model of radiation affecting satellites in low earth orbit and assess the likelihood of satellite anomalies.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
There are thousands of new satellites being launched into low earth orbit (LEO) to provide data transfer and internet services. These include Starlink and the Oneweb constellation where the Government has a £400 M stake. They use commercial off the shelf (COTS) electronic components which are more vulnerable to damage due to energetic charged particle radiation than previous satellites. The last major space weather event occurred in 2003, where radiation levels were greatly enhanced, but none of the new satellites have experienced radiation at these levels. Consequently, their vulnerability is unknown. The project will develop a climate model for space radiation in LEO which varies with the solar cycle, and the variability due to space weather events. The model will be used to provide an assessment of satellite anomalies for a severe event. The work will support the Government Severe Space Weather Preparedness Strategy 2021, and the growing satellite industry.
Project summary : 
The key objectives are to develop a dynamic space radiation model for low earth orbit, assess the radiation exposure to satellites in low earth orbit, and determine their vulnerability to key electronic components. By using a realistic magnetic field model radiation exposure will vary by geomagnetic latitude and longitude. The model will be tested against satellite data to reproduce the climatology over the solar cycle and adapted to simulate severe space weather events as they happened in the past. These simulations will be used to provide an assessment of expected occurrence rates of satellite anomalies during future events.
What will the student do?: 
The student will develop code to extend an existing model, the BAS Radiation Belt model, from the equatorial region down to low Earth orbit and over the high latitude regions using a realistic geomagnetic field. They will access, download, and manipulate data from satellites such as the NOAA POES and ESA Proba V satellites and use the data to verify the model. They will investigate any changes to the model that are needed to obtain the best climatology and develop and code any new modules that are needed. They will then simulate previous severe space weather events and apply the results to the current generation of new satellites and assess the impact on the electronic components. The project will require substantial programming in FORTRAN and Python, management and analysis of large satellite datasets.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Glauert, S. A., Horne, R. B., & Meredith, N. P. (2014b). Three dimensional electron radiation belt simulations using the BAS Radiation Belt Model with new diffusion models for chorus, plasmaspheric hiss and lightning-generated whistlers. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 119, 268–289.
Horne, R. B., Glauert, S. A., Kirsch, P., Heynderickx, D., Bingham, S., Thorn, P., et al. (2021). The satellite risk prediction and radiation forecast system (SaRIF). Space Weather, 19, e2021SW002823.
You can find out about applying for this project on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) page.