Articles | Volume 28, issue 6
24 Jun 2010
 | 24 Jun 2010

The long-term effects of space weather on satellite operations

D. T. Welling

Abstract. Integrated lifetime radiation damage may cause spacecraft to become more susceptible to operational anomalies by changing material characteristics of electronic components. This study demonstrates and quantifies the impact of these effects by examining the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) satellite anomaly database. Energetic particle data from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) is used to construct the total lifetime particle exposure a satellite has received at the epoch of an anomaly. These values are compared to the satellite's chronological age and the average exposure per year (calculated over two solar cycles.) The results show that many anomalies occur on satellites that have received a total lifetime high-energy particle exposure that is disproportionate to their age. In particular, 10.8% of all events occurred on satellites that received over two times more 20 to 40 MeV proton lifetime particle exposure than predicted using an average annual mean. This number inflates to 35.2% for 40 to 80 MeV protons and 33.7% for ≥2 MeV electrons. Overall, 73.5% of all anomalies occurred on a spacecraft that had experienced greater than two times the expected particle exposure for one of the eight particle populations used in this study. Simplistically, this means that the long term radiation background exposure matters, and that if the background radiation is elevated during the satellite's lifetime, the satellite is likely to experience more anomalies than satellites that have not been exposed to the elevated environment.