Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


CLaSP/Los Alamos team wins R&D 100 Award for space weather prediction platform

Posted: January 31, 2018

CLaSP/Los Alamos team wins R&D 100 Award for space weather prediction platform Image: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Several Climate & Space researchers joined forces with a Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) team to develop the SHIELDS Space Weather Platform that was selected as a 2017 R&D 100 Award winner last month.

SHIELDS (Space Hazards Induced near Earth by Large, Dynamic Storms) is intended to serve as an effective line of defense for communication, navigation, and scientific satellites vulnerable to the damaging effects of space weather. Satellite onboard electronics can be harmed by the electromagnetic radiation and charged particles emitted by the sun. This could potentially disrupt cellphone and GPS, interrupt radio and TV reception, shut down the Internet, and endanger military and civilian communications systems.

The SHIELDS team researchers have developed a software platform to better understand, model, and predict space weather about an hour before it hits the satellites in Earth’s orbit. The advanced warning will allow instruments, systems, and networks to be placed into a “safe” mode, protecting them from the destructive power of solar particles.

In addition to its general forecasting abilities, SHIELDS is specifically designed to help predict the conditions that could result in one of the more harmful hazards of the near-Earth space environment: the spacecraft Surface-Charging Environment (SCE). An SCE is defined as the buildup of an electrical charge on spacecraft surfaces or in the spacecraft interior. As satellites orbit around the planet, they are bombarded with energetic particles which eventually build into an SCE. Because surface charging is typically not uniform around a spacecraft, the electrical potential differences can lead to an electrostatic discharge that damages a satellite’s electronic components. This could potentially disable components critical to the satellite’s operations.

To help mitigate the incidences of SCEs, SHIELDS builds on the University of Michigan’s Space Weather Modeling Framework (SWMF), leveraging the framework’s high-performance computational capabilities critical to resolving the dynamics associated with an SCE.

The R&D 100 Awards were begun in 1963 by R&D Magazine as a way of identifying and celebrating “top 100 revolutionary technologies of the past year.” Past winners have included sophisticated testing equipment, innovative new materials, disruptive chemistry breakthroughs, new biomedical products, breakthrough consumer products, and new technologies spanning industry, academia, and government.

“This year’s finalists reflect the Lab’s scientific creativity and technical achievement,” said Carol Burns, Los Alamos’ deputy principal associate director of science, technology and engineering.
“Many of the innovations also demonstrate productive external partnerships with universities, private industry and other government laboratories to develop of technical solutions that serve the country.”

The SHIELDS project is led by Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher and University of Michigan alumni, Dr. Vania Jordanova, Principal Investigator. Also on the LANL team are two two more U-M alumni, Dr. Earl Lawrence; and Dr. Yiqun Yu. Climate & Space team members include Research Professor Gabor Toth, Team Leader; Assistant Research Scientist Dr. Dan Welling; Research Fellow Dr. Yuxi Chen: and Graduate Student Research Assistant John Haiducek.

Congratulations, Team SHIELDS! ​