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Satellite Launches with Mission to Monitor Space Weather

Last night, the the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a NOAA satellite, launched into outer space. Space weather monitoring capabilities and Earth observations provided by DSCOVR will enhance our Nation's ability to plan for and respond to the hazards associated with space weather, and to better understand the interactions between human and natural systems that characterize our planet.

We know too well that weather on Earth can affect our daily lives. But what about weather in space? Solar flares, geomagnetic storms, and other types of space weather have the potential to disrupt a range of critical infrastructure, including telecommunications, power grids, and GPS applications. Such disruptions could pose significant threats to our safety, security, and economy.

That’s why last night’s launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a NOAA satellite, is so important. An assessment requested by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy identified DSCOVR as the best option for meeting the Nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring needs. DSCOVR is the result of collaboration by three Federal agencies – NOAA, NASA, and the Air Force. From its perch a million miles away from us on Earth, it will enhance our Nation's ability to plan for and respond to the hazards associated with space weather. 

DSCOVR’s primary purpose  is to provide vital information on the solar wind, the stream of charged particles continuously buffeting Earth's magnetic field. These data help us to prepare for and respond to solar events that could disrupt our critical infrastructure. Just as we collect data on the weather systems within our atmosphere to predict and plan for events like hurricanes and blizzards, the Administration is committed to ensuring the availability of data, information, and expertise needed to enhance our resilience to space weather events. In addition to ensuring that we have critical technology like DSCOVR in place, the Administration is also working to establish a National Space Weather Strategy that will ensure a coordinated approach across Federal Departments and Agencies to address space weather risks.

A second aspect of this mission that is of great importance to the Administration is the instrumentation that furthers our understanding of the near-Earth environment. As laid out in the President’s Climate Action Plan, the Federal Government is focused on utilizing the vast amount of available data about our Earth and turning it into actionable information to boost our preparedness and resilience to climate change. In assuming orbit farther from Earth, DSCOVR will avoid data sampling challenges encountered by satellites orbiting Earth at closer proximity. Situated between the Earth and Sun a million miles away from us on the ground, DSCOVR will be able to send us clear, sunlit images of the entire Earth.

Instruments on DSCOVR will also be able to gather more complete readings on a number of measurements of interest to climate and Earth scientists. For example, the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera will provide information on a range of Earth properties, including ozone and aerosol levels, cloud coverage, and vegetation density – supporting a number of climate science applications. Meanwhile, National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Radiometer will take energy balance measurements that will improve our understanding of ways in which changes to the amounts of heat and radiation absorbed into our atmosphere from the Sun are affected by human activities as well as natural phenomena.

We are particularly excited about DSCOVR's ability to inspire the next generation of scientists and explorers. The full images of Earth transmitted from DSCOVR will allow all of us to see the awe-inspiring “blue marble” the way our Apollo astronauts did many years ago. We will be able to continuously update an image that inspired so many young scientists to research our Earth and ways we can protect it. We hope this image will inspire future generations to pursue our ongoing quest for knowledge about our Earth, galaxy, and beyond.

Tamara Dickinson is Principal Assistant Director for Environment & Energy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Bill Murtagh is Assistant Director for Space Weather at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.