The Unites States' first operational space weather satellite intended to provide an early warning of potentially harmful solar storms and activity has reached its final orbit in deep space, officials say.
After traveling for more than three months since its launch, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Deep Space Climate Observatory has entered its permanent orbit more than a million miles from Earth, a release from NOAA headquarters reported.
The satellite will improve NOAA's ability to issue warnings of potentially dangerous solar activity, which can result in geomagnetic storms in Earth's atmosphere that can put satellites at risk and affect GPS systems, telecommunications and terrestrial power grids.
Starting in 2016, data from DSCOVR, combined with a new forecast computer model, will enable space weather scientists to predict such storms on a regional basis, the agency says.
"DSCOVR will trigger early warnings whenever it detects a surge of energy that could cause a geomagnetic storm that could bring possible damaging impacts for Earth," says Stephen Volz with NOAA's Satellite and Information Service.
DSCOVR will orbit at a particular point between the sun and the Earth known as a Lagrange point, which will give it an excellent vantage point for observing both.
A Lagrange point is a particular position in an orbit between two large gravitational objects — in this case, the sun and Earth — where a small object will remain in a stable position relative to the larger bodies.
Along with instruments to make its space weather observations, DSCOVR has two NASA Earth-observing devices onboard to make atmospheric and climate observations of Earth's atmosphere.
"DSCOVR has reached its final orbit and will soon be ready to begin its mission of space weather monitoring for NOAA and Earth observing for NASA," says Al Vernacchio, DSCOVR project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Data from the satellite will allow scientists at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., to make forecasts as soon as DSCOVR has been tested in its new orbital location and is ready and operational, officials said.