Space Weather - SWE Segment

Space weather refers to the environmental conditions in Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere due to the Sun and the solar wind that can influence the functioning and reliability of spaceborne and ground-based systems and services or endanger property or human health.

Space weather deals with phenomena involving ambient plasma, magnetic fields, radiation, particle flows and other physical happenings in space. At ESA, the scientific properties of space weather are studied by a number of teams and offices, and it is also a key element of our SSA Space Weather Segment.

About space weather

In Europe’s economy today, numerous sectors are potentially affected by space weather, ranging from space-based telecommunications, broadcasting, weather services and navigation through to power distribution and terrestrial communications, especially at northern latitudes.

Each of these sectors has a need for space weather data and services, together with a further requirement for those services to be tailored to their particular application.

The SWE Data Centre is located at ESA’s Redu Station, Belgium; the SSA Space Weather Coordination Centre (SSCC) is located at the Space Pole, Brussels.

ROLEDetection and forecasting of space weather events & their effects on European space assets & ground-based infrastructure
COORDINATION CENTRESWE Data Centre, ESA Redu Station; SSA Space Weather Coordination Centre (SSCC), Space Pole, Belgium
  • Now: multiple ground-based & spaceborne sensors monitoring the Sun, solar wind and Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere
  • Future: fully coordinated space environment monitoring system implemented with international collaboration
+ Real-time space weather information, forecasts & warnings of space weather events, supported by a data archive, applications and services +

SWE Segment

As part of Period II of ESA’s SSA Programme, the Space Weather (SWE) Segment is focusing on the development of applications and coordination aimed at enabling services for owners/operators of satellites in space and infrastructure on the ground. The Segment will also initiate a study of a future SWE mission to the Lagrange points L1/L4/L5 for enhanced observation of the Sun.

Concordia station under Aurora AustralisAccess the image

ESA’s SWE system will enable end-users in a wide range of affected sectors to mitigate the effects of space weather on their systems, reducing costs and improving reliability.

The SSA SWE Segment focuses on developments enabling services to customers working in:

  • Satellite design
  • Satellite operation
  • Human spaceflight
  • Launch operations
  • Trans-ionospheric radio communications
  • SSA surveillance and tracking
  • Non-space systems operation such as the aviation sector and power grid operators

... and many more.

SWE team

ESA’s SWE team is based at ESAC, ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre, and is supported by scientists and experts from across the Agency and European industrial teams.

We are developing the SWE Segment by exploiting European expertise in the space weather area. Europe has some of the world’s top experts in solar and magnetospheric physics.

The team is led by Juha-Pekka Luntama, an experienced project manager and atmospheric and space weather observation systems scientist. He is assisted by Alexi Glover, a solar physicist who has long experience in ESA’s Space Weather Applications Pilot Project and in the Space Weather European Network (SWENET).

“We are developing the SWE Segment by exploiting European expertise in the space weather area. Europe has some of the world’s top experts in solar and magnetospheric physics and many institutes and organisations have already established space weather services," Says Mr Luntama.

"Under the SSA Programme, our objective is to coordinate and support these activities to provide services that will help protect European critical infrastructure from damage by space weather events.”

SWE system development overview

In order to achieve reliable services, constant monitoring of the space environment from a range of vantage points is needed, together with timely dissemination of reliable data to the service users.

ESA's SSA Space Weather Coordination Centre is located at Space Pole, BrusselsAccess the image

The raw measurements must be fed into advanced computational models and tools in order to give both near-real-time information and advanced warning of upcoming space weather conditions that may affect a diverse range of user systems.

Europe already has a wealth of expertise and assets providing high-quality scientific observations, results and models as well as a number of space weather products to local customers. ESA’s SSA SWE segment builds on this foundation towards a federated space-weather service-provision concept, avoiding duplication and ensuring that these existing assets and resources play a key role in Europe’s new SSA system.

Kanzelhöhe Solar Observatory, AustriaAccess the image

SWE services centre around the SWE Data Centre at ESA’s Redu Centre and the SSA Space Weather Coordination Centre (SSCC), located at the Space Pole in Belgium.

SSCC provides the first European Space Weather Helpdesk, with operators available to answer questions about the SWE precursor service network or space weather conditions in general. SSCC can be reached via:

In addition, a number of Expert Service Centres (ESCs) based on existing centres of expertise were established in the SWE-participating Member States during the Preparatory Programme.

These centres each link a number of expert groups and focus on specific capabilities. The network of ESCs will be expanded during Period 2, to include the following topics: 

  • Solar weather 
  • Ionospheric weather
  • Geomagnetic conditions
  • Space radiation
  • Heliospheric weather
A diagramme illustrating ESA's SSA Space Weather network, as of March 2013Access the image

ESCs act as focal points within the SWE architecture for expertise, data and products in that area from across Europe.

Measurement infrastructure and technology development

Proba-2 fully operational in its final orbitAccess the image

In addition to service development and testing, an assessment of the space segment needed to fulfill SSA SWE requirements is being carried out. This focuses on identifying the instrumentation needed for performing the observations and the optimal locations from which to make these observations in order to achieve the wide range of coverage needed.

The development of a number of key instruments will be continued during SSA Period 2, paving the way for SWE-dedicated payloads to be deployed during the Programme. These include solar-disc imagers, a wide-angle coronagraph and instruments designed for in-situ measurement of the solar wind and space radiation environment at critical locations. In parallel, the SWE team is working together with planned missions in key orbits in order to implement hosted payload missions for space weather instruments.    

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