UK industry secures leading role in space weather mission

Uk Space Agency

May 22
16:28 2024

Space Weather which recently created displays of the Northern Lights over UK skies - can potentially disrupt technology on Earth and threaten equipment in space and at high altitude, which is why it features prominently on the National Risk Register.

Due to launch in 2031, the Vigil mission will improve the ability to accurately forecast space weather, with a spacecraft set to be placed into a solar orbit where it can observe the Sun, the Earth and the space in between.

This vantage point will enable early warning about incoming solar storms which will allow appropriate alerting and protective measures to be taken in time to minimise their impact.

Vigil will sustain more than 150 highly skilled jobs in the UK and reinforces Airbus UKs position as a space prime, covering complete missions from spacecraft design and build to comprehensive verification and final delivery.

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said:

The development of the Vigil space weather mission, right here on British soil in Stevenage, is a testament to our central role within the European Space Agency and our world-class expertise in space manufacturing.

This mission will improve our space weather forecasts, protect satellites and the critical services they provide on Earth, and help build a safer, more sustainable future for space activities.

Credit: Airbus

Vigil will also carry a plasma analyser from the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory and a magnetometer from Imperial College London. The Met Office will use the data from Vigil to offer more accurate forecasts, which also feeds into the UKs new National Space Operations Centre.

Wider international contributions include instruments led by NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and Leonardo in Belgium and Italy.

Patrick Wood, Head of Space Systems UK, Airbus Defence and Space, said:

Vigil is one of the most exciting and important space missions that will not only improve our understanding of the Suns behaviour but crucially provide us with earlier warning and greater precision about potentially damaging solar weather. Space weather forecasters will be able to see what is coming from the Sun and provide more accurate alerts.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General, said:

Vigil will be Europes first 24/7 operational space weather satellite, providing valuable time to protect critical infrastructure such as power grids or mobile communication networks on Earth as well as valuable satellites in Earth orbit, including the International Space Station (ISS).

Vigil will drastically improve both the lead time of space weather warnings as well as their level of detail from its unique vantage point in deep space.

While in Brussels, the Minister also signed the Zero Debris Charter, recognising the contribution of ESA to this global initiative which encourages space organisations to work together to minimise the generation of debris in orbit.

As set out in the National Space Strategy, ESA is a close partner for the UK in space science, exploration, climate monitoring, and technical collaboration. It provides a powerful platform for sharing knowledge, technical expertise, and resources to achieve shared goals and contribute to global space endeavours.

The UK hosts the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) and the ESA Climate Office on the Harwell Science Campus in Oxfordshire, alongside the new headquarte

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