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May 04, 2017

Now entering the Ionosphere

What do the Northern Lights, your satnav, and our power grid have in common? They’re all affected by space weather.

The ionosphere represents just 0.1% of the total mass of Earth’s atmosphere. Yet, like Spire, it punches far above its weight. When there is a solar event like a solar flare, solar “wind” leaves the sun at 400km/s and within a few days, it hits our ionosphere. The effect not only causes the Northern Lights, but also has a detrimental effect on radio signals and GPS, blanking out large areas from reliable communications and positioning. Airlines will not fly over the North Pole, for example, when the ionosphere is in such a state, costing a large amount of money for re-routing, and slowing up your journey. With a granular and real-time understanding of how solar radiation is affecting Earth comes super-accurate GPS, improved global communications, and even a warning system that could prevent damage to our power grid.

We recently began launching LEMUR-2 satellites equipped with our new STRATOS sensor. That sensor is designed to produce incredibly accurate weather data. An important byproduct of our weather data collection process is actually the total electron content (TEC) of the ionosphere. As it turns out, our STRATOS sensor is one of the best ways to get this type of data globally. For each equipped satellite, Spire will collect around 21,600 TEC measurements per satellite per hour. When you consider a constellation of 40-50 satellites, this is a huge amount of data.  

TEC data is the primary data type used in ionosphere models to characterize the ionosphere. Historically, ionosphere data has been collected from ground stations. Unfortunately, those ground stations have limited coverage over the oceans. Spire will be providing, by far, the largest amount of ionosphere data collected over the oceans that the world has ever seen, and will also be a huge enhancement to the world’s ground collection network.  

The image below shows just how much TEC data that Spire can collect in a single day with 3 satellites!

ionmap.jpg (238 KB)

Perhaps by the next time you find yourself traveling internationally and flying over the pole, you’ll be able to relax knowing that the plane’s positioning system has been enhanced by Spire’s TEC data and we’re tracking it with AirSafe.

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