Next-generation space weather forecasts, DSCOVR ready to replace ACE on July 27

Next-generation space weather forecasts, DSCOVR ready to replace ACE on July 27

NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory - DSCOVR - has completed instrument validation after reaching the first sun-Earth Lagrange point (L1), approximately 1.6 million km (1 million miles) from Earth, and is ready to go operational on July 27, 2016, taking over the role of monitoring solar storms as they approach Earth.

The spacecraft will replace NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) research spacecraft as the primary space-based observatory for monitoring potentially dangerous space weather. Although the new spacecraft has the necessary data to provide geomagnetic storm warnings, it will not have all of the instruments that ACE has and will not be able to provide a replacement for SIS and EPAM measurements.

Simply said, DSCOVR serves as a distant early warning sentinel, like a tsunami buoy in space, to alert of incoming eruptions from the Sun. Its data will be used in a new forecast model – the Geospace Model – due to come on line this year. 

Currently, the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issues a single forecast for the entire planet, but with the Geospace Model, for the first time, forecasters will be able to issue regional, short-term space weather forecasts, including predictions on the timing and strength of a solar storm that will impact Earth. 

Data from DSCOVR, which will be available to the public in real-time online, will allow forecasters to provide space weather warnings and alerts up to an hour before a surge of particles and magnetic field generated by solar storms hit Earth.

NOAA's DSCOVR spacecraft is positioned at the first sun-Earth Lagrange point (L1), approximately 1.6 million km (1 million miles) from Earth. Credit: NOAA

Note: The following information will be useful if you are actively monitoring data provided by the ACE spacecraft

Beginning at 16:00 UTC on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, SWPC will start using data from DSCOVR spacecraft in its operations. This data will replace the data currently provided by the ACE satellite. 

DSCOVR’s primary space weather sensors are the Faraday Cup plasma sensor, which measures the velocity, density and temperature of the solar wind, and a Magnetometer, which measures the strength and direction of the solar wind magnetic field. Together, the instruments provide SWPC forecasters with the necessary information to issue geomagnetic storm warnings.  

However, DSCOVR does not have all of the instruments that the NASA ACE research spacecraft has and will not be able to provide a replacement to the SIS and EPAM measurements.

SWPC will utilize the Real-Time Solar Wind Network (RTSWnet) to acquire DSCOVR data and send it to SWPC for processing. Today, this network acquires real-time NASA ACE data, but once SWPC’s RTSWnet partners switch to DSCOVR, SWPC will no longer be able to offer real-time NASA ACE data.

If in the future ACE data become available in real-time from an alternate network, SWPC will continue to serve ACE real-time data as well.

Real-time Solar Wind and Magnetometer data, now available in JSON format for up to the past 7 days from the SWPC Data Service, currently hold ACE data, but will automatically switch to DSCOVR data on July 27.  Users who switch to these JSON files now will see no changes when the switch is made as the file formats will be identical.

After the transition to DSCOVR, SWPC will continue to make available any ACE EPAM and ACE SIS data that is provided by antenna sites.

After the switch, EPAM and SIS data will continue to be available* from the SWPC Data Service and for the past 30 days from the SWPC ftp service ACE directory and for historical data (including MAG and SWEPAM) back to August 2001 from Solarsoft.

ACE EPAM and SIS 1-hour averaged real-time data, and historical data can be retrieved from the SWPC ftp service ACE2 directory and for historical data (including MAG and SWEPAM) back to August, 2000 from Solarsoft.

ACE science data and many other related products are archived at the ACE Science Center.

A complete DSCOVR data archive is available at the NOAA National Center for Environmental Information.  

*ACE data will continue to be processed in real-time by NOAA SWPC for any data that is received.  The Real-Time Solar Wind Network will be tracking DSCOVR, so new tracking partners are needed to provide ACE data in the future. The ACE processing will not be supported outside of normal business hours so gaps in the data and real-time availability of ACE can be expected.

Featured image credit: NASA

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