Scientists invent a method for predicting solar radio flux for two years ahead


Research News


Scientists at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) and their colleagues from the University of Graz & the Kanzelhöhe Observatory (Austria) and the ESA European Space Operations Centre developed a method and software called RESONANCE to predict the solar radio flux activity for 1-24 months ahead. RESONANCE will serve to improve the specification of satellite orbits, re-entry services, modeling of space debris evolution, and collision avoidance maneuvers. The research results were published in the high-profile Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

Since the launch of Sputnik, the Earth’s first artificial satellite, in 1957, more than 41,500 tons of manmade objects have been placed in orbit around the Sun, the Earth, and other planetary bodies. Since that time, the majority of objects, such as rocket bodies and large pieces of space debris, re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere in an uncontrolled way, posing a potential hazard to people and infrastructure. Predicting the re-entry date and time is a challenging task, as one needs to specify the density of the upper Earth atmosphere that strongly depends on solar activity which, in turn, is hard to predict. Earth atmosphere can become very heated due to solar activity which causes it to expand, and a satellite can decay in its orbit and fall back to the Earth due to the effect known as atmospheric drag. In addition, there is a lot of space debris, much of it very small; if a spacecraft unexpectedly changes its orbit and encounters even a small piece of debris, this would be equivalent to hitting a bomb because of the high speed.

An international group of scientists led by Skoltech professor Tatiana Podladchikova developed a new method and software called RESONANCE (“Radio Emissions from the Sun: ONline ANalytical Computer-aided Estimator”) which provides predictions of the solar radio flux at F10.7 and F30 cm with a lead time of 1 to 24 months. The F10.7 and F30 indices represent the flux density of solar radio emissions at a wavelength of 10.7 and 30 cm averaged over an hour and serve as a solar proxy of the ultraviolet solar emission which heats the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The method combines state-of-art physics-based models and advanced data assimilation methods, where the resulting F10.7 and F30 forecasts are used as solar input in the re-entry prediction tool for further estimation of an object re-entry time.

“We systematically evaluated the performance of RESONANCE in providing re-entry predictions on past ESA re-entry campaigns for 602 payloads and rocket bodies as well as 2,344 objects of space debris that re-entered from 2006 to 2019 over the full 11-year solar cycle. The test results demonstrated that the predictions obtained by RESONANCE in general also lead to improvements in the forecasts of re-entry epochs and can thus be recommended as a new operational service for re-entry predictions and other space weather applications,” says lead author and Skoltech’s MSc graduate Elena Petrova who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. studies at the Centre for Mathematical Plasma Astrophysics, Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven).

“The number of re-entered objects is closely related to the solar activity level: the majority of objects return during the maximum solar activity phase within the 11-year cycle. Interestingly, the space debris re-entry time closely follows the evolution of the cycle, reacting immediately to changes in solar activity. At the same time, payloads and rocket bodies also show a large number of re-entries during the declining phase of the cycle, which may be related to the time delay between solar activity and re-entry for large objects”, says professor Astrid Veronig, a co-author of the study and director of Kanzelhöhe Observatory at the University of Graz.


“It is very important to monitor and predict solar activity for orbit prediction needs. For example, Skylab which was intended to perform a controlled re-entry in the 1970s dropped on Earth in an uncontrolled way due to inaccurate calculations of the atmospheric drag due to solar activity. Another example is the most recent launch of the Chinese Long March 5B rocket on May 9, 2021: the remnants from its second stage that carried China’s first space station module made an uncontrolled re-entry and landed in the Indian Ocean. Thus the development of robust and reliable space weather operational services bringing together the forefront of research with engineering applications is of prime importance for the protection of space and ground-based infrastructures and advancement of space exploration. And whatever storms may rage, we wish everyone a good weather in space,” says Tatiana Podladchikova, assistant professor at the Skoltech Space Center (SSC) and a research co-author.

Currently, the team is preparing RESONANCE for operational use as part of a new space weather service for continuous prediction of solar radio flux activity.

Skoltech is a private international university located in Russia. Established in 2011 in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Skoltech is cultivating a new generation of leaders in the fields of science, technology and business, is conducting research in breakthrough fields, and is promoting technological innovation with the goal of solving critical problems that face Russia and the world. Skoltech is focusing on six priority areas: data science and artificial intelligence, life sciences, advanced materials and modern design methods, energy efficiency, photonics and quantum technologies, and advanced research. Web:

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Reply to  mwhite
May 16, 2021 4:42 am

About 14 days ahead (about half of one rotation) is as much as one can hope, everything else ‘we are doing great science’.
Instead of sending the toy helicopter to Mars, Nasa should have sent some instruments observing the other side of the sun when Earth and Mars are between 90 and 270 degrees opposite since Mars year is nearly twice (1.88) as long as Earth’s.

Reply to  Vuk
May 17, 2021 4:12 am

FYI it’s *displacement.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  mwhite
May 16, 2021 9:54 pm

I thought the same thing. Once we know the cycle start date, and the solar magentic state 24 months prior, the F10.7 curve for the next 10-11 years is pretty much a done-deal.

May 16, 2021 2:59 am

So, those 11-year cycles are now well enough understood to be used as a benchmark in predictions on which hangs millions, if not billions of dollars?
Geeze, there I thought linear extrapolation is the maffematticks of climastrology… Cycles? Nooo!

Richard (the cynical one)
Reply to  paranoid goy
May 16, 2021 6:09 am

Yes, but.
The warming of the atmosphere from increased solar output has only one effect, that being increased drag on orbiting objects. Do not make the faulty assumption that any glacier melt, polar cap depletion, hurricane event, wild fire, sea level rise, starving polar bear, etc ad infinitum, is in any way connected. It has been decided that every problem the planet faces is due to the scourge of humans infesting it.

Reply to  Richard (the cynical one)
May 16, 2021 6:48 am

The warming of the atmosphere from increased solar output has only one effect, that being increased drag on orbiting objects.

Sorry bro’ (say brah) but that sentence smells like consensus science; “…only one effect…” and all that. Frexample I always thought atmospheric expansion to be a major cooling force.

Richard (the cynical one)
Reply to  paranoid goy
May 16, 2021 8:43 am

Sarcasm intended.

Reply to  paranoid goy
May 16, 2021 6:55 am

Their predictions are either accurate or they are not. That is the test of a model, not how simple or complex it is.

M Courtney
May 16, 2021 3:30 am

1 to 24 months ahead.
That’s quite a spread.

Reply to  M Courtney
May 16, 2021 6:56 am

That’s not a spread. They are saying that they can make predictions for the period of 1 to 24 months in the future.

M Courtney
Reply to  MarkW
May 16, 2021 8:23 am

That makes more sense. Thanks.

paul marchand
May 16, 2021 4:04 am

Well, there is the sunspot – solar radio flux – TEMPERATURE – falling space debris correlation.

May 16, 2021 5:58 am

Did they come up with a solar-flux prediction for the next 1 – 24 months? If so, what is the prediction?

May 16, 2021 6:11 am

I also invented a method. Take 24 coins and flip them. The number of heads determines how many months in the future we’ll record the highest solar radio flux in the next two years.

I need a grant of $24M ($1M each month) to test it.

Abolition Man
May 16, 2021 6:37 am

Skolkovo? Skolkovo!? I thought that sounded familiar!
The Skolkovo Project was the Russian attempt to build a “Silicon Valley” of their own for high tech research and developement. To help in this endeavor they hired the Clinton Crime Family to push American entrepreneurs and businesses to work with their Russian counterparts.Since Hildebeast was Sec of State at the time this enabled her and Billy Jeff to rake in millions in the name of improved international relations! US military intel agencies determined that it was a serious threat to national security, and apparently the Russians agreed; they just decided that it was much easier to bribe US govt and business officials than employ those pesky, old agents of espionage!
The Clinton Foundation received millions in charitable donations, and old BJ himself got a $500,000 speaking fee for a speech he gave in Russia! Maybe he needed some pocket money for his island getaways, and it was not safe to pull it out of the Foundation with the old battleaxe watching! Anyway, that speaking fee was probably so large because the Russian company Rosatom was simultaneously trying to purchase Uranium One; which Hillbill could veto, so they doubled up on the bribe, er, um, honorarium to Bill!
I wish someone would make a soap opera about the shenanigans going on inside our dear, federal government! They wouldn’t have to make stuff up; they could use actual dates and names but most of the viewers would still find it too far fetched and unbelievable!
I’m glad to see that the Russian bribes are paying off! They got a raw deal when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the criminals in our goverment helped put the Russian Mafia in charge of their country; birds of a feather and all! While they are moving ahead with real, hard sciences, we here in the West are learning about the whiteness of mathematics and feminist glaciology!

Richard Page
Reply to  Abolition Man
May 16, 2021 12:18 pm

Wait, what? Are you saying that ‘Game of Thrones’ wasn’t based on the Clinton’s?

Abolition Man
Reply to  Richard Page
May 16, 2021 3:16 pm

Only Cersei Lannister! HBO didn’t think it’s audience could abide a character as depraved as Billy Jeff!
Too much gratuitous sex would have sullied the show’s standards!

May 16, 2021 7:47 am

Interesting <a href=>paper</a> but they should’ve taken the opportunity in it to publish a prediction for the next 24 months in order to evaluate the method over the next two years for validation in real-time.

Reply to  Bob Weber
May 16, 2021 9:19 am

If it was scientific sure. But a tri-party government boondoggle doesn’t need to perform, it just needs grants.

May 16, 2021 9:17 am

Post a graduated, five million EU performance bond for each user who bases each instance of their critical technolgy operations on these predictions. Highest award given to users for longest term predictions. Users register for the award with the bondholder. If solar performance meets predictions, the bond remains in trust. If predictions fail, the bond amount is awarded to the user.
Put up, but until proven useful, please shut up.
Russian, Austrian Greens, and Woke MIT, what could possibly go wrong?

May 16, 2021 12:18 pm

I’ll believe it when I see it, but at least they’ve set a timeline where we actually WILL be able to see it.

Reply to  TonyG
May 16, 2021 12:41 pm

My crystal ball, TonyG, says that we will never see nor hear anything from them again, at least until the next grant request and/or project stop date. I have a system for making these predictions, after all! And it costs me nothing to make them, and costs me nothing for them to fail.
How much MIT money went there, I wonder? If, as it seems likely, U.S. government cash was involved, it did cost me for them to claim program success in confirmation of the terms of the project goals as laid out in a grant request.
The applications claims in this press release are melodramatic but obviously false. Predicting the future of any naturally occuring phenomena of a poorly understood complex system is charlatanism. This effect on orbital objects has been the subject of study by people I’ve associated with, and there has much, multi-agency, multi-discipline supercomputer time spent on it. I am sure that these people haven’t a clue, but do have a decent drawing account.

Reply to  dk_
May 16, 2021 1:07 pm

dk your prediction is equally as provable as theirs, given the time frame, and probably a lot more likely to be correct 🙂

Reply to  TonyG
May 16, 2021 1:36 pm

🙂 That’s where my money would go, if it weren’t already done gone!

May 17, 2021 6:43 am

Do they have two years of verifiable records proving it works? Till then color me unimpressed.

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