Space Weather Center to Add World’s First ‘Ensemble Forecasting’ Capability


Improved Forecasting to Coincide with Peak in Solar Activity

After years of relative somnolence, the sun is beginning to stir. By the time it’s fully awake in about 20 months, the team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., charged with researching and tracking solar activity, will have at their disposal a greatly enhanced forecasting capability.

Goddard’s Space Weather Laboratory recently received support under NASA’s Space Technology Program Game Changing Program to implement “ensemble forecasting,” a computer technique already used by meteorologists to track potential paths and impacts of hurricanes and other severe weather events.

Instead of analyzing one set of solar-storm conditions, as is the case now, Goddard forecasters will be able to simultaneously produce as many as 100 computerized forecasts by calculating multiple possible conditions or, in the parlance of Heliophysicists, parameters. Just as important, they will be able to do this quickly and use the information to provide alerts of space weather storms that could potentially be harmful to astronauts and NASA spacecraft.

“Space weather alerts are available now, but we want to make them better,” said Michael Hesse, chief of Goddard’s Space Weather Laboratory and the recently named director of the Center’s Heliophysics Science Division. “Ensemble forecasting will provide a distribution of arrival times, which will improve the reliability of forecasts. This is important. Society is relying more so than ever on space. Communications, navigation, electrical-power generation, all are all susceptible to space weather.” Once it’s implemented, “there will be nothing like this in the world. No one has done ensemble forecasting for space weather.”

The state-of-the-art capability, which Hesse’s group is implementing now and expects to complete within three years, couldn’t come too soon, either.

Sun Growing Restless

Since the sun reached its solar minimum in 2008 — the period when the number of sunspots is lowest — it has begun to awaken from its slumber. On Aug. 4, the sun unleashed a near X-class solar flare that erupted near an Earth-facing sunspot. Although flares don’t always produce coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — gigantic bubbles of charged particles that can carry up to ten billion tons of matter and accelerate to several million miles per hour as they erupt from the sun’s atmosphere and stream through interplanetary space — this one did.

The CME overtook two previous CMEs — all occurring within 48 hours — and combined into a triple threat. Luckily for Earthlings, the CMEs produced only a moderate geomagnetic storm when solar particles streamed down the field lines toward Earth’s poles and collided with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere. Even so, “it was the strongest storm in many years,” said Antti Pulkkinen, one of the laboratory’s chief forecasters.

However, the repercussions could be far worse in the future. As part of its 11-year cycle, the sun is entering solar maximum, the period of greatest activity. It is expected to peak in 2013. During this time, more powerful CMEs, often associated with M- and X-class flare events, become more numerous and can affect any planet or spacecraft in its path. In the past, solar storms have disrupted power grids on Earth and damaged instrumentation on satellites. They can also be harmful to astronauts if they are not warned to take protective cover.

“No one knows exactly what the sun will do, Pulkkinen said. “We can’t even tell in a week, let alone a year or two, what the sun will do. All we know is that the sun will be more active.”

Given the expected uptick in activity, Hesse, Pulkkinen, and Yihua Zheng, another chief forecaster, were anxious to enhance their forecasting acumen. They partnered with the Space Radiation Analysis Group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is responsible for ensuring that astronauts’ exposure to deadly radiation remains below established safety levels, and won NASA funding to develop the Integrated Advanced Alert/Warning Systems for Solar Proton Events.

Weaknesses in Current System

“Ensemble forecasting holds the key” to an enhanced alert system,” Hesse said. “We agreed that this was the way to go.”

Currently, the laboratory is running one CME model — calculating one set of parameters — at a time. The parameters are derived from near real-time data gathered by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, among others. “But since all of these are scientific research missions, we have no guarantee of a continuous real-time data stream,” Zheng said.

Furthermore, imperfections exist in the data. These imperfections grow over time, leading to forecasts that don’t agree with the evolution of actual conditions. For NASA, the Air Force, and other organizations, which use Goddard’s forecasts to decide whether steps are needed to protect space assets and astronauts, uncertainty is as unwelcome as the storm itself.

Ensemble forecasting, however, overcomes the weaknesses by allowing forecasters to tweak the conditions. “Generating different parameters is easy — just varying a little bit of all parameters involved in characterizing a CME, such as its speed, propagation direction, and angular extent,” Zheng explained. In essence, the multiple forecasts provide information on the different ways the CME can evolve over the next few hours. “We’ll be able to characterize the uncertainties in our forecasts, which is almost as important as the forecast itself,” Pulkkinen added.

The team has already installed new computer systems to run the varying calculations and hopes to develop the ability to generate more specialized forecasts.

“We recognize there is a huge gap in our current capability,” Pulkkinen continued. “We certainly don’t want to miss the solar maximum with this capability. We’re really pushing the envelope to have it done. When we do, we’ll be the first in the world to have it.”

When this forecasting technique is verified and validated by NASA’s Space Weather Laboratory, the capability will be made available to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which is responsible for issuing national space weather alerts. NASA’s goal to understand and track space weather activity will enable a greatly enhanced forecasting capability for U.S. interests.

For more information about Goddard’s space weather efforts and access to its space weather analysis system, visit:

For more information about NOAA’s space weather efforts, visit:

For more information about technology development at the Goddard Space Flight Center, visit:

Lori Keesey
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

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Program on Inflatable habitats is scheduled to air on the Science Channel, 2/29/12 at 10pm, Cox Channel 101


About Prophets of Science Fiction
What once was just imagination is now real; what was once the distant future is now around the corner. The “Science Fiction” of the past has now simply become “Science”. And the science of the future was strangely prophesied by a group of visionaries whose dreams once may have deemed them renegades and “mad scientists,” have become reality!

In 1950, the term “Robotics” was coined by author Isaac Asimov in his book I.ROBOT — and our collective imagination reeled. In the years since, literature, movies and television have allowed us to embrace the notion that the ideas of a few inspired visionaries could be made real. What is more astonishing is that these ideas have been, are currently and will be put to practice in our everyday lives. Each episode of the upcoming series PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION will focus on how the great minds of Science Fiction imagined our future for us, and how some, in turn, made their fantasies real.

In a dynamic hyper-stylized way that has never been seen before … we will take a tour of what was, and what will be through the eyes of the visionary authors, illustrators, filmmakers, and scientists who have become the PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION!


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Center Snapshot: Steve Gaddis

Image above: Steve Gaddis, who was minister of a church he built in Alabama, runs the newly created Game Changing Technology Development office at NASA Langley. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Image above: Steve Gaddis, who was minister of a church he built in Alabama, runs the newly created Game Changing Technology Development office at NASA Langley. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Source: Researcher News

The call came twice, the first time when he was a kid at his grandparents’ home in Tennesee and the Apollo launches were on television.

Then, when he was a NASA engineer, working on the space shuttle at Marshall Space Flight Center and looking for a place to hold a Bible study. From that study group sprang the New Life Tabernacle in Arab, Ala.

Its minister was Steve Gaddis, who now heads the NASA’s new Game Changing Development Program Office at NASA Langley.

He has spent the past five years going through a series of adjustments, from minister to layman, from deputy chief of the Launch Abort System to working with the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA headquarters, from working at an operations center to running an office at a research center.

Gaddis, a serious college football fan as a graduate of the universities of Tennessee and Alabama, calls it his “second half” and adds that it’s part of an ongoing education.

Take moving from Marshall to Langley, from human space flight operations to research linked to space flights of the future.

“It’s a big adjustment,” Gaddis said. “My wife asked me one night, ‘how are you liking it?’ I said, ‘It’s a slower pace, not because these guys don’t work hard, but because they’re just trying to get things right.’ Sometimes at an operations center, you have to say, ‘well, is it good enough?

” ‘Is it the best? No. Is it good enough to get the job done? Yeah.’ As an engineer, you want to put the best out there.”

Rather than figuring out a way to stop blades from melting on a shuttle engine turbine, he’s leading efforts in composites that will lighten the load the next rocket has to carry into space. Efforts in radiation shielding. Efforts in slowing a spacecraft down as it nears where it is to land.

And he’s catching the research fever. Passion for a job has never been a problem.

“I’m working with more scientists now than engineers,” Gaddis said. “Scientists are a different breed. They are as passionate about their research as anybody I’ve ever worked with in human space flight. They believe the research they are doing is going to propel this country forward — economically, technically and scientifically. They’re going to keep this country a leader in technology and innovation, and they believe it could be the technology they’re working on that does it. And they are right. This is the right place to invest.”

Gaddis grew up in Georgia, then moved to Tennessee, where space grabbed him so hard that, as a tot, he carried toy rockets in his pockets for play.

At the University of Tennessee, he went to a co-op exhibition, where he learned that NASA was looking for students. “I signed up, got selected and, my friend, the rest is history,” Gaddis said. “I never looked for another job.”

He worked with the space shuttle, then nuclear propulsion and finally launch abort, putting in long hours that got even longer when he was grabbed by a second vocation.

Or, more appropriate, a second call.

“We dug a church right out of the ground,” Gaddis said. “Once I was approved (as an ordained minister), we started door-knocking. I would use advertisements. We raised money and built a church to 250-300 members. We started a day care, a Christian K-12 school.”

And continued to work with NASA.

“It was tough,” Gaddis said. “It was quickly wearing me out. Then we went to teamwork. When you can’t do it all yourself, you start to understand that many hands make lighter work.”

A team ministry sprang up.

“That’s how I kept from having a heart attack from doing too much,” Gaddis admitted.

He found a young couple to take over the New Life Tabernacle and retired. Or as much as any minister can retire.

“It never completely stops,” Gaddis said. “You still get calls all the time, but all of that slows down.”

There’s time now for fishing with sons Stephen and Logan, as well as their various sports activities. An older daughter, Mindi, is married and another, Hannah, is a student at Old Dominion University.

He and wife Marquita want to return to foster parenting, as they did in Alabama.

“Anybody ought to help a kid,” Gaddis said.

The search is on for a church, and when you’ve been a minister, that search is a serious one. Like research, like working on the space shuttle, like everything else he has done in his life, it’s a search with passion and energy.

It’s the only way Gaddis knows how to approach anything.

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NASA Channels “The Force” With Smart SPHERES

Three satellites fly in formation as part of the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) investigation. Image Credit: NASA

Three satellites fly in formation as part of the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) investigation. Image Credit: NASA

In an interesting case of science fiction becoming a reality, NASA has been testing their SPHERES project over the past few years. The SPHERES project (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) involves spherical satellites about the size of a bowling ball. Used inside the International Space Station, the satellites are used to test autonomous rendezvous and docking maneuvers. Each individual satellite features its own power, propulsion, computers and navigational support systems.

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Game Changing Development Program Kickoff


New Langley Office Seeks to Change the Game  | 10.20.11
By: Jim Hodges

Steve Gaddis, head of Langley's Game Changing Development Program office. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

The conference was rapid-fire.
Bang. An overview of advanced radiation protection.
Bang. Ten minutes on the Composite Cryogenic Tank.
Bang. Sextant. Space Synthetic Biology.
Bang. Bang. Bang.

“Let me just tell you something about what it means to me,” said Steve Gaddis, a Langley newcomer who heads the office. “This is two years of formulation, sweat, digging in the trenches to get a Game-Changing program going. We’re finally able to kick it off.”

Gaddis remained effusive.

“I’m reminded of the old Pinocchio story: We’re a real boy!” he said. “We’re not an (operations) plan change. We’re a fully funded element in the Congressional budget.”

That FY 2011 budget allocated about $350 million in startup money for the office of Space Technology, the parent of the Game Changing Development Program and nine other program offices around NASA. The FY 2012 budget, submitted by President Obama, lifted that to $1,024,000, though that is far from complete.

“On Monday, (the Office of Management of the Budget) came out with a statement that listed four priorities for NASA, and Space Technology was one of those priorities,” said Mike Gazarik, a former NASA Langley engineer who heads Space Technology for the agency. He was on hand Wednesday to celebrate opening of the Game Changing Technology office.

“What we need now is an appropriated budget,” Gazarik said. “Both the House and Senate have agreed with the program, that in FY ’12 we should make a separate account for it. They just haven’t agreed with the amount.”

For now, 904 jobs throughout the agency are supported by Space Technology. Langley has 152 of those jobs, more than any other center.

Their jobs at Langley involve advancing the development of technology from across the agency with a look toward the future.

“With Game-Changing, we’re supposed to be looking at a two-year process of getting the (Technology Readiness Level) from three to about five (on a scale of 1-9),” Gaddis said. “And we want somebody to touch it. We don’t just want somebody to develop it and put it on the shelf. We want somebody to use it.”

He pointed to the Cryogenic Composite Tank.

“It cuts down the weight of tanks by 50 percent,” Gaddis said. “Right now, we’re doing a small, 3.5-meter demonstration, and if we can demonstrate it successfully, then I think Space Launch System will take it on and use it (for upper stage cryogenic fuels).”

The job is a departure from most of Gaddis’ career, which was spent in human space flight. Programs in that realm tend to think in terms of systems. Space Technology is more concerned with pieces of systems.

“We’re assessing complicated systems,” Gaddis said. “What are the critical components that, if we matured that component, it would change the game for those guys: reduce the cost, increase the efficiency, lower the weight, expand the capability? That’s the kind of assessment we’ve been doing.

“A system is nothing but pieces coming together. So now, we’re making the pieces better.”

He has caught the technology fever.

“I’m not a true blue technologist but, man, they’ve got me fired up about it,” he said. “A lot of what we used in human spaceflight wasn’t cutting edge. This is cutting edge, man.

“This is going for something that worked on a lab table to take it to a ground demonstration and make it ready for a flight demonstration. It’s very exciting. I’m passionate about it. You can’t hang around these technologists without feeling their passion.”

When NASA Space Technology program was conceived two years ago, among its first components was going to be Game Changing Technology. Bobby Braun, the former agency chief technologist, and Gazarik traveled the country to explain the concept.

“It was going to be a group that was like DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency),” Gaddis said. “It could quickly do things, quickly assess things. Failure – we would learn from it.”

He and Gazarik spend less time explaining “game changing” these days.

“Two years ago, it was just talk,” Gaddis said. “Now it’s a full-fledged program.”

With an office in NASA Langley’s hangar that is open for business.




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NASA Picks Boeing For Composite Cryogenic Propellant Tank Tests

Space Technology NASA Banner
[Source: – Release 11:305]

WASHINGTON — NASA has selected The Boeing Company of Huntington Beach, Calif., for the Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort. Under the contract, Boeing will design, manufacture and test two lightweight composite cryogenic propellant tanks.

The demonstration effort will use advanced composite materials to develop new technologies that could be applied to multiple future NASA missions, including human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

Boeing will receive approximately $24 million over the project lifecycle from NASA’s Space Technology Program for the work which starts this month. The tanks will be manufactured at a Boeing facility in Seattle. Testing will start in late 2013 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“The goal of this particular technology demonstration effort is to achieve a 30 percent weight savings and a 25 percent cost savings from traditional metallic tanks,” said the Director of NASA’s Space Technology Program, Michael Gazarik at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Weight savings alone would allow us to increase our upmass capability, which is important when considering payload size and cost. This state-of-the-art technology has applications for multiple stakeholders in the rocket propulsion community.”

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NASA Announces Two Game-Changing Space Technology Projects

Space Technology NASA Banner

[Source: – Release 11-310]

WASHINGTON — NASA has selected two game-changing space technology projects for development. The selections are part of the agency’s efforts to pursue revolutionary technology required for future missions, while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost of government and commercial space activities.

“NASA’s Game Changing Technology Development program uses a rolling selection process to mature new, potentially transformative technologies from low to moderate technology readiness levels — from the edge of reality to a test article ready for the rigors of the lab,” said Space Technology Director Michael Gazarik at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These two new projects are just the beginning. Space Technology is making investments in critical technology areas that will enable NASA’s future missions, while benefiting the American aerospace community.”

The “Ride the Light” concept seeks to provide external power on demand for aerospace vehicles and other applications. The concept uses beamed power and propulsion produced by commercially available power sources such as lasers and microwave energy. The project will attempt to develop a low-cost, modular power beaming capability and explore multiple technologies to function as receiving elements of the beamed power.

The Amprius project will focus on the material optimization of silicon anodes and electrolyte formulation to meet the agency’s low-temperature energy requirements. Amprius developed a unique ultra-high capacity silicon anode for lithium ion batteries that will enable NASA to dramatically improve the specific energy of mission critical rechargeable batteries. NASA requirements are unique because of the extremely low temperatures encountered in space.

This combination of technologies could be applied to space propulsion, performance and endurance of un-piloted aerial vehicles or ground-to-ground power beaming applications. Development of such capabilities fulfills NASA’s strategic goal of developing high payoff technology and enabling missions otherwise unachievable with today’s technology.

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SEXTANT/NICER production parts Credits: NASA

SEXTANT/NICER production parts Credits: NASA

Untitled-2 Untitled-21DSC_0486DSC_0484On April 15, 2010, the President challenged NASA to “break through the barriers” to enable the “first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space” by 2025. One of these barriers is navigation technology.In the 18th century, the advancement of clock technology and resulting improvement in navigation fidelity brought us to the New World that we now call home. In support of NASA’s push to explore new worlds beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), and to serve a variety of national needs, the NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR) team proposes to use the International Space Station (ISS) to validate a revolutionary navigation technology.

The NICER/SEXTANT (NICER is the name given to the instrument for the SMD proposal, but NICER and SEXTANT are the same instrument) concept uses a collection of pulsars— stellar “lighthouses”—as a time and navigation standard just like the atomic clocks of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Unlike GPS satellites, NICER pulsars are distributed across the Galaxy, providing an infrastructure of precise timing beacons that can support navigation throughout the Solar System. Since their discovery in 1967, pulsars have been envisioned as a tool for Galactic navigation (Figure 1). An NICER system measures the arrival times of pulses through the detection of X-ray photons; a sequence of measurements is then stitched together into an autonomous on-board navigation solution.

NASA’s plans for distant exploration demand breakthrough navigation tools. The best current capabilities are resource-intensive and degrade as explorers recede from Earth. At Mars, they yield crossrange spacecraft positions to a few kilometers, but impose scheduling burdens on the Deep Space Network (DSN). For critical applications such as orbit insertion at Jupiter and beyond, the current state-of-the-art is pushed to its practical limit. NICER complements the existing navigation toolbox, promising three-dimensional position accuracies better than 500 m anywhere in the Solar System.  Ultimately, a small (~0.1 m3), low mass (<~10 kg) NICER package will offer a cost effective on-board navigation option for the redundancy and reliability required for human exploration beyond LEO, and will enable deep-space missions that are not feasible with Earth-based tracking.

X-ray pulsar timing applications address the navigation and exploration goals of the National Space Policy of June 28, 2010, and NASA, DoD, and NIST are investing in technology development to exploit them. As celestial clocks, pulsars offer a new time standard that can be independently generated anywhere. The DoD is exploring applications enabled by a network of spacecraft with synchronized clocks, including mitigation of vulnerabilities in GPS. DARPA has funded the X-ray Timing (XTIM) program, which, in collaboration with the ISS NICER experiment, will demonstrate distributed time-synchronization using celestial sources.



Figure 1: NICER/SEXTANT brings to practical reality the concept of a pulsar based map, first used on the Pioneer Plaque to encode (radial lines at left) the Sun’s location in the Galaxy [3].

NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) is a SMD science mission chosen to go into Phase A. NICER represents a science aspect of SEXTANT, where looking at many of the same Neutron Stars we need to enable pulsar navigation, scientists can also learn about the densest objects in the universe and study extreme physics.

The combination of the science and technology demonstration represented by SEXTANT reflects a true cost sharing between very different parts of NASA and the US Government.

The selection notice is at:

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