A variety of operational systems are vulnerable to disruption by solar disturbances brought to the Earth by the solar wind. Of particular importance to navigation systems are energetic charged particles which can generate temporary malfunctions and permanent damage in satellites. Modern spacecraft technology may prove to be particularly at risk during the next maximum of the solar cycle. In addition, the associated ionospheric disturbances cause phase shifts of transionospheric and ionosphere-reflected signals, giving positioning errors and loss of signal for GPS and Loran-C positioning systems and for over-the-horizon radars. We now have sufficient understanding of the solar wind, and how it interacts with the Earth's magnetic field, to predict statistically the likely effects on operational systems over the next solar cycle. We also have a number of advanced ways of detecting and tracking these disturbances through space but we cannot, as yet, provide accurate forecasts of individual disturbances that could be used to protect satellites and to correct errors. In addition, we have recently discovered long-term changes in the Sun, which mean that the number and severity of the disturbances to operational systems are increasing.
- Space weather