Space has immense opportunities, but it involves risk as well.
Our researchers are studying the sun to try to predict space weather – magnetic storms that can interfere with global electronic systems – and working to build resilience into our procedures so that we are ready for the disturbances when they do come.
We are also looking back at our Earth from orbit, to detect crustal movements that could warn of earthquakes, and working to manage the growth of space debris so that future generations can continue to explore.
- Major space weather events have their origin in activity on the Sun. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections can cause damage to space hardware, and also to terrestrial systems such as power distribution. Can we learn to predict flares and ejections well enough to give useful warning?
- Space is a ‘high-risk’ business; yet new missions don't always learn from previous failures. It is very difficult to identify these common causes and to anticipate that they might affect a future mission.
- Space-based systems are a core component of national critical infrastructures. Software is at the heart of all complex, space-based systems. Components are vulnerable to cyber attacks, in particular from state sponsored agencies.
- Space-based systems now form a core component for national critical infrastructures. These systems are very vulnerable to physical and cyber attacks as well as to accidental faults. End users are typically unaware of the threats identified to satellite-based infrastructures, creating enormous vulnerabilities.
- In the case of a collision, even tiny fragments of space debris can damage spacecraft. We are looking at how this tiny space debris can be tracked in orbit.
- In the last 50 years astronomers have discovered a vast number of small asteroids orbiting the Sun. A tiny fraction of these objects follow trajectories which bring them near to the Earth. Near Earth Objects represent a huge risk to human kind, but no near-term means to mitigate the consequences of such impacts currently exists.