Software for Space Weather Satellite Developed by Solar Physics Group

Posted on: 04 November 2009

A group of researchers from the School of Physics celebrated the launch of a new space weather satellite, Proba-2, which uses image analysing software developed at TCD during a special event, held in Trinity’s Science Gallery.  The group, led by Dr Peter Gallagher, were joined at the launch event on November 2nd by the Belgian Ambassador and a representative from the Russian Federation embassy to see the European Space Agency’s (ESA) second satellite in its technology demonstration series enter orbit above northern Russia.

The Proba-2 satellite will demonstrate 17 advanced satellite technologies including sensors and cameras and will also send back scientific data about the sun and its atmosphere.  Proba-2’s main contractor is the Royal Observatory of Belgium but the Solar Physics Group at TCD have been heavily involved in the project which has been set up to monitor solar activity and watch for the formation of solar storms.

Speaking at the launch event, Dr Peter Gallagher, a lecturer in Astrophysics, said: “The image analysis software on board Proba-2 will provide high-quality images of the sun and solar storms.  Monitoring this solar activity will allow us to determine the effect of space weather in the near-Earth environment”.

Ultra-violet image of the sun

Image of the sun in extreme ultra-violet depicting the type of images expected from the Proba-2 satellite.  (Image: NASA / ESA)

Dr Shaun Bloomfield, a postdoctoral research fellow at TCD added:  “This research is of importance to society as we become increasingly dependent on satellite communications, GPS systems and power distribution grids.  The data will improve our understanding of solar storms which will allow us to make more accurate predictions of the arrival times and impacts of these events at Earth”.

The Solar Physics Group conducts research on a wide variety of solar phenomena, including active region evolution, solar flares, coronal mass ejections and coronal holes.  The group is currently leading the way in many aspects of space science in Ireland, from software development for NASA and ESA satellites to studying the fundamental physics of solar storms.  Ireland has been a member of ESA since 1975 and today there are almost 50 companies in Ireland working on software and hardware development for ESA.