Speaking at the UN General Assembly, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled plans to invest £20m (US$25m) in research and development to help the UK cope with the potential impacts of space weather events.
Space weather, such as flares or winds from the Sun’s surface or geomagnetic storms, can damage satellites and cause disruption to air transportation and communications systems. The £20m will nearly quadruple the current investment in the Met Office’s Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC).
This new fund will be used to look closely at space weather innovation, measurement, modeling and risk assessment. By predicting when and where space weather events take place, the Met Office can issue warnings and advice that will allow operators to take necessary action, such as maneuvering satellites and isolating parts of the power network to ensure the least amount of disruption possible.
The UK will also be able to share forecasts with other space weather centers around the world, including the US Space Weather Prediction Center.
Prime Minister Johnson said, “From solar flares to magnetic storms, space weather can have a massive impact on mobile phones, transport, GPS signals and the electricity networks we rely on every day at home. This funding will help turn Britain’s pioneering research into practical solutions that will protect against disruption.”
Mark Gibbs, head of MOSWOC, added, “The funding will help upgrade UK capabilities in space weather modeling and measurement. This is an important milestone in the development of space weather forecasts here in the UK and will see the biggest change in MOSWOC capability since the majority of services were introduced in 2014. We look forward to working with UK universities and research institutes to maximize the return on this investment.”
The news comes as the UK’s science minister, Chris Skidmore, and the UK Space Agency confirmed a further £1.3m (US$1.6m) will be invested in developing spaceport plans in England, Scotland and Wales, as part of the government’s spaceflight program, LaunchUK. This funding is on top of the up to £7.85m (US$9.7m) the government intends to invest in developing facilities and operational capabilities at Spaceport Cornwall with Virgin Orbit. The UK Space Agency has also committed £31.5m (US$39m) in grants for the proposed vertical launch spaceport project in Sutherland, Scotland; and for Lockheed Martin and British company Orbex to provide launch services from that site.
Commenting on the new investments, Skidmore said, “Our space sector is incredibly strong and productive, with innovative firms and the UK’s world-class university researchers playing a leading role in the new space age. A truly strategic approach to space is needed now more than ever and we must develop our national space capabilities, while strengthening our international partnerships, to take full advantage of opportunities like satellite launch from the UK and defend against serious threats such as space weather.”