Carmeyia Gillis, NOAA Space Environment Center
(301) 763-8000 ext. 7163
March 3, 2006
NOAA ASSISTS NASA MARS MISSION
Space Environment Center Keeps Close Watch for Solar Storms
The NOAA Space Environment Center, home to the nation's early warning
system for solar storms, is assisting NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mission as the satellite approaches its critical orbit insertion phase.
The SEC is providing daily briefings to the NASA MRO Mission Operations
Assurance Group as well as providing appropriate warnings and alerts of
"This operation presents some significant challenges," said Joe Kunches,
chief of the NOAA Space Environment Center's forecast and analysis
branch. "The greatest issue is the fact that Mars is a long way from
Earth, but more importantly, Mars is facing a different part of the Sun
than we Earthlings."
Currently, the SEC expects space weather conditions to be quiet, and
NOAA forecasters anticipate they will stay that way through the next
week. "Accurate forecasts are imperative," added Kunches. "If the MRO
were to encounter a solar radiation storm while in an operational mode
that is vulnerable to an energetic proton it could cause a computer
component to malfunction and the spacecraft could be lost."
The SEC also provides similar information in a NASA requested space
weather briefing every day for the NASA Space Radiation Analysis Group
at Johnson Space Center. SRAG monitors the radiation environment for the
crew of the International Space Station and astronauts aboard the Space
Shuttle when it is in flight.
The NOAA Space Environment Center is one of the NOAA National Centers
for Environmental Prediction. SEC's 24 hour-a-day, 7 days-a-week
operations are critical in protecting space and ground-based assets.
Through the SEC, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force jointly operate the space
weather operations center that continuously monitors, analyzes and
forecasts the environment between the Sun and Earth. In addition to the
data gathered from NOAA and NASA satellites, the center receives
real-time solar and geophysical information from ground-based
observatories around the world. NOAA space weather forecasters use the
data to predict solar and geomagnetic activity and issue worldwide
alerts of significant events.
NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to
enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction
and research of weather and climate-related events and providing
environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.
Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS),
NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to
develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet
Relevant Web Sites:
* NOAA Space Environment Center
* NOAA Solar X-ray Imager -- Latest Images of the Sun
NOAA image of the Sun taken at 11:42 a.m. EST on March 3, 2006. Credit: