October 10, 2022

China Launches Satellite to Improve Space Weather Prediction

China has launched an Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S) satellite, dubbed Kuafu-1, to study the sun and improve weather predictions in space. The satellite launched aboard a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia on Sunday morning Beijing time, October 9, 2022.

According to the Xinhua News Agency, the ASO-S spacecraft has been successfully directed to its target orbit, which is a solar synchronous path about 720 kilometers away from Earth.

The ASO-S mission was proposed by the heliophysics community at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2011. The 888-kilogram satellite will use three instruments to study the sun's magnetic field, solar flares, and coronal mass ejection (CME) or large jets of superheated plasma hurtling away from the sun at millions of miles per hour.

Solar flares are often associated with CMEs, and both can affect people on Earth. Strong CMEs, for example, can generate geomagnetic storms that can disrupt power grids, radio communications, and GPS navigation. "ASO-S aims for simultaneous observation of the beacon and CME to understand their connection and formation mechanism," the mission description reads.

The spacecraft will also study how energy is transported through the different layers of the sun's atmosphere, as well as how the evolution of solar flares and CMEs is affected by the sun's magnetic field.

ASO-S is designed to operate for at least four years and generate approximately 500 gigabytes of data every day. In the explanation of the satellite mission, the purpose of ASO-S is stated as a means of observing solar eruptions and the evolution of the magnetic field to facilitate space weather forecasts and to protect valuable assets in space.

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