NOAA Adopts CubeSat’s Proven Finnish Space Weather Monitor

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The 2-unit Sunstorm CubeSat carries the X-ray Flux Monitor, used to monitor X-ray flares associated with coronal mass ejections, a major driver of space weather. The XFM aperture can be seen in the lower right black corner of the front of the CubeSat, facing the viewer. Credit: Kuva Space

An advanced space-tested X-ray monitoring instrument aboard an ESA CubeSat will serve as the operational space weather payload on the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Next Lagrange 1 satellite , currently slated for launch in 2028, which will mine 1.5 million km from Earth, monitoring flares from our sun.

Made in Finland, the X-ray flux monitor was launched aboard the Sunstorm CubeSat – the size of a large thick paperback – by Europe’s Vega rocket in August last year.

This simplified version of the large-scale XFM instrument, officially known as XFM-CS, has since amassed more than a year of data, observing hundreds of X-ray flares, dozens of them being associated with the onset of coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs are huge explosions involving ejections of up to a billion tons of coronal plasma from the sun at once, which intensify the solar wind and are the main drivers of space weather.

“Solar X-ray monitoring in space has been done for a long time, but the instruments are broadband flux monitors, measuring the overall intensity of X-ray flares,” says XFM concept inventor Juhani Huovelin from the Finnish company Isaware. .

“Our XFM design is different because it also breaks the flare down into an energy spectrum, providing valuable insight into important yet unexplained questions regarding the link between solar flares and CMEs. Our experience on Sunstorm shows that it can accurately measure the spectra of very strong flares, but it is also sensitive enough to detect the X-ray spectrum of a nearly quiescent sun.”







A Large Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) was recorded by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) on August 30, 2022. The CME struck ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft while it was performing a flyby of Venus. Credit: ESA/NASA SOHO

CubeSats are nano-satellites whose design is based on standardized 10 cm cubic elements. ESA uses them to provide early flight testing for innovative European technology, through the Fly element of its General Support Technology Program (GSTP).

“Sunstorm shows the value of in-orbit demonstration,” comments Camille Pirat of ESA’s CubeSat Systems unit. “His flight experience has proven that XFM is capable of operating in space and meeting its stated performance specifications, helping the full-size version of the instrument secure a place with NOAA, while producing quality scientific data.”

The full-scale version of XFM is about four times larger than XFM-CS, with redundant detectors and enlarged viewing apertures. Juhani adds: “This instrument must meet operational performance requirements, which means that it must continue to provide second-by-second data. XFM-CS is in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 550 km, and for nearly the halfway through its orbit, it loses sight of the sun, but the NOAA Space Weather satellite will be positioned at Lagrange Point 1 of the sun-Earth system in deep space, with nothing to obscure XFM’s visibility of the sun.

“XFM-CS is also shielded from space radiation by the Earth’s magnetic field, so we were able to use less expensive commercial components. The full-scale instrument needs parts that will operate and maintain their performance in the harsh radiation environment of deep space.”

NOAA Adopts CubeSat's Proven Finnish Space Weather Monitor

M-class X-ray flares measured by Sunstorm/XFM-CS compared to current NOAA/GOES (lighter tint: XFM-CS at 1s resolution; darker tint: XFM-CS at 60s resolution; tint darkest: GOES/XRS data) Credit: ESA

The XFM concept incorporates new silicon drift detector technology that evolved from silicon-based technology applied for astrophysical research three decades ago by members of the same Finnish team. Earlier versions were flown on ESA’s Smart-1 mission to the Moon – subject to the “great Halloween solar storms” of 2003 during its trip to lunar orbit – and on board the BepiColombo mission to Mercury, where the Finnish SIXS instrument will measure solar X-rays and particles for calibration of X-rays emitted from the planet’s surface.

Sunstorm itself continues its operations, notes Janne Kuhno of Kuva Space, the maker of Sunstorm: “We assembled the platform carrying the instrument quite quickly. It has to face the sun of course – and balance that requirement with thermal management of such a small turned rig was a minor challenge, but Sunstorm performed well, as evidenced by the amount of science-grade data it produced.After demonstrating this capability, with the help from ESA’s GSTP, we hope to continue contributing to next-generation space weather monitoring and building a future Finnish space sector.”

XFM was developed by ISAWARE with Aboa Space Research Oy, Oxford Instruments Technologies and Talvioja Consulting.

Provided by the European Space Agency

Quote: NOAA adopts Finland’s CubeSat-proven space weather monitor (18 November 2022) retrieved 18 November 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-noaa-finland-cubesat-proven-space-weather.html

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