20 October 2022


Engineering, Media Updates, News, Space

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  • RHEATECH Ltd awarded contract by UK Research and Innovation to analyze the impact of space weather events on engineering systems and the resulting socioeconomic effects.
  • The analysis of impacts on systems such as satellites, ground infrastructure and aviation will be used in the Space Weather Impact Assessment Study Report, due to be published early in 2024.


RHEATECH Ltd (RHEA), with its consortium partners addressing socio-economic impacts and Northumbria University assessing advances in the space weather science, has been awarded a contract by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a UK public research organization, to prepare an updated report on the impact of space weather on human activities on and above Earth. For the Space Weather Impact Assessment Study, RHEA will analyze the impacts of space weather on technological systems, including satellites, ground infrastructure, telecommunications and aviation. The report is due to be published early in 2024. The project is part of a 4-year, £20 million UK programme called ‘Space weather innovation, measurement, modelling and risk’ (SWIMMR).

In 2013, a report by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering[i] was fundamental in raising awareness of the potentially severe consequences of space weather on our daily lives, due to our increasing reliance on a wide range of technological systems. This new study will update the 2013 report by analyzing what has changed in the last decade, both in terms of our understanding and ability to forecast space weather, and the changes in the many technological systems used by individuals, organizations and nations.

For the new report, RHEA will look at the impacts of space weather on technological systems and analyze the socioeconomic impacts of people losing access to power, navigation systems, satellite communications and so on. For example, the geolocation and timing information provided by global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) has increased significantly in accuracy in the last decade, and is now fundamental to many services, including transport, public utilities, emergency response and finance. It is estimated that a loss of space-based positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) services would cost the UK economy around £1 billion per day.

Although rare, solar storms can potentially have a massive impact. The ability to forecast their arrival at Earth and impact as proactively as possible is therefore vital.

Alastair Pidgeon, RHEA Group Director of Business Development, Space Systems Engineering, said: “Space weather is listed as a significant risk in the National Risk Register of the UK, and those of other countries as well. The UK is being proactive in addressing this and is an internationally recognized leader in activities to forecast and mitigate the effects of space weather, as exemplified by the UK Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC), which is unique in Europe. The awarding of this contract by UKRI will enable us to apply our expertise in space weather towards what will be a key report in this field, forming part of the overarching SWIMMR programme that will further improve the UK’s capabilities with relation to space weather and its potential impacts.”

‘Space weather’ refers to the effects of solar activity, such as solar flares, which can result in a sudden release of large clouds of high-speed magnetized plasma known as coronal mass ejections. These solar storms may be released into the solar system in any direction, but if they are directed towards Earth, they can interact with the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, giving rise to geomagnetic storms and inducing currents in the ground that may affect infrastructure such as power grids, pipelines and railways. Solar storms can also disrupt the Earth’s ionosphere and impair communications and navigation systems, and the high-energy particles can pose a threat to sensitive electronics on board spacecraft, high altitude aircraft and even sensitive electronics at lower altitudes. The spectacular northern and southern lights (aurora borealis/australis) are the result of the high-energy particles striking the upper atmosphere as they follow the Earth’s magnetic field lines.

[i] Royal Academy of Engineering; Extreme space weather: impacts on engineered systems and infrastructure; February 2013

Press contact RHEA Group: Isabelle Roels