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167 satellite-years’ worth of space-weather data now available

To help improve the understanding, prediction and preparedness for potentially devastating space-weather events, 16 years’ worth of satellite sensor data has been released.

GPS satellites orbit in a radiation-filled environment, so they carry particle detectors that give constellation operators a way to assess the health and status of the system. The sensors, developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, continuously measure the energy and intensity of charged particles in Earth’s magnetic field. With this data, researchers can better understand how space weather works and how best to protect critical infrastructure, such as the nation’s satellites, aircraft, communications networks, navigation systems and the electric power grid.

“Today, 23 of the nation’s more than 30 on-orbit GPS satellites carry these instruments," said Marc Kippen, the Los Alamos program manager. "When you multiply the number of satellites collecting data with the number of years they’ve been doing it, it totals more than 167 satellite years. It’s really an unprecedented amount of information.”

The newly released measurements constitute a nearly continuous global record of the variability in the Van Allen radiation belt for the past 16 years, including how it responds to solar storms. The data provides an invaluable record for understanding radiation-belt variability that is key to developing effective space-weather forecasting models, Los Alamos officials said.

The public release of GPS energetic-particle data was conducted under the terms of an October 2016 White House Executive Order on preparing the nation for space-weather events. The Los Alamos-GPS sensor data is available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or on

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at or @sjaymiller.

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