The colour displays show the flux of high energy electrons (2 MeV) trapped inside the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts.  When the flux of these electrons becomes high for a sustained period of time satellite service outage and disruption are more likely to occur.  The colour coded panels show the flux in the meridian plane (top) and the equatorial plane (bottom) and how it varies for selected orbits (right panels).  The panels show the last 24 hours and a forecast of up to 3 hours ahead.  The forecasts are updated every hour.  The risk of satellite charging is derived from the high energy electron flux integrated over the last 24 hour period. There are over 1000 operational satellites on orbit and over 420 in geostationary orbit.  Note that the panels show the differential flux and not the integrated flux.

Internal charging:  High energy electrons can penetrate the outer layers of a satellite and accumulate in insulators such as cables and dielectrics on circuit boards.  If the charge builds up faster than it can leak away it can cause an electrostatic discharge and break down the material permanently.  This has led to loss of service and in some cases total satellite loss.  The periods most at risk correspond to periods of high electron flux.


Surface charging:  Bursts of low energy electrons can accumulate on surfaces, particularly when the spacecraft is in the Earth’s shadow and there is no photoelectron emission.  Since only half the spacecraft can ever be in sunlight large electric fields can build up across the satellite and cause an electrostatic discharge.  Surface charging has led to loss of solar array strings.  The periods most at risk correspond to periods of substorm injections when the satellite is in eclipse.


Single event upsets: High energy ions can penetrate electronic components and deposit charge in them.  This can corrupt memory circuits.  High energy ions can also dislodge ions in the crystal structure causing increased noise and degradation of performance.  Periods most at risk are during solar energetic particle events when the number of high energy protons can increase a thousand fold.  This has led to repeated memory corruption over a period of a few days and up to 2% loss of solar array power.

The BAS radiation belt model is used to provide a forecast of the 2 MeV electron flux in the outer Van Allen radiation belt.  The model uses data from the ACE satellite and a forecast of geomagnetic activity to make the forecasts.  The model solves a diffusion equation that takes into account the transport of electrons across the magnetic field towards and away from the planet (radial diffusion), electron acceleration by wave-particle interactions, electron loss into the atmosphere by wave-particle interactions and collisions with atmospheric gasses.  Changes in the interplanetary magnetic field and the solar wind dynamic pressure are used to determine the outer boundary of the Earth’s magnetic field which affects radial transport.  The injection of low energy electrons during substorms is represented by changes in the electron flux at the low energy boundary and by scaling the wave power by geomagnetic activity.  Three types of wave-particle interactions are included in the model.


The flux of electrons can vary significantly around the geostationary arc.  The GOES satellites only provide a snapshot at one or two locations.  The model can be tailored to other locations.


Key features are

  • The forecasts cover the three main orbit types where most commercial satellites fly
  • The forecasts are based on a physical model
  • The forecasts include the physics of wave-particle interactions
  • The forecasts can be tailored to specific satellites at GEO or other orbits.

For more details on the model see

Glauert et al. J. Geophysical Res., [2014]:

Horne et al. Space Weather, [2013]: