Finnish researchers have developed a computer model simulating the electron environment in space around the Earth that could inform satellite operators about spacecraft-damaging radiation.
The Inner Magnetosphere Particle Transport and Acceleration Model (IMPTAM), developed by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), is the first tool of its kind in Europe able to provide information about the electron flux bombarding satellites in all Earth orbits.
"Specifying the electron flux at any satellite orbit, we will be able to provide satellite operators the critical information for surface charging of satellite materials", said the main developer of the IMPTAM model, FMI's researcher Dr. Natalia Ganushkina.
Surface charging to a high voltage does not usually cause immediate problems for a spacecraft. However, electrical discharges resulting from differential charging can damage surface material and create electromagnetic interference that can subsequently damage electronic devices and instruments aboard the spacecraft.
Charged electrons in space come mostly from solar flares. These electrons could be accelerated to much higher energies of megaelectronvolts and populate the Earth's radiation belts which are from the radiation hazard viewpoint the two most critical regions around the Earth.
Researchers have verified the new model using data acquired by geostationary satellites in various positions.
The team has found that small scale electric fields related to reconfiguration of electric and magnetic fields during solar storms affect the distribution of radiation in orbit.
The IMPTAM model development and improvement is part of the SPACECAST project funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme. Though the current study is mostly scientific, the researchers believe they will be able to create operation models in the near future.