Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have successfully implemented a new space-based system to monitor Earth's space environment.
Called the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment, or AMPERE, the system provides continuous, real-time magnetic measurements of the Earth's magnetic field using commercial satellites.
It manages to do so with up to 100 times greater sampling density than previously possible, the researchers said.
The milestone is the latest in the attempt to build a 24-hour weather observation network in space -- one that can monitor the Earth's response to solar flares and other phenomena quickly enough to allow forecasters to predict the weather beyond the Earth's atmosphere.
The project was undertaken in partnership with aerospace giant Boeing, which is handling data collection and processing, and satellite communications company Iridium, which loaned the use of its 66 low-Earth orbiting satellites for the project.
It was funded with a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Boeing says its engineers were able to create a new data pathway for transferring magnetic field samples from the satellites to the ground station, which in turn allows the AMPERE system to provide data every two to 20 seconds from each Iridium satellite.
Previously, data was only sampled once every three minutes, delaying analysis until the next day.
The next step for the team will be to develop analytical tools to evaluate and forecast severe geomagnetic storms in space. The researchers expect to release products to the scientific community in the fourth quarter of 2010.
"This milestone brings us one step closer to accurate space weather forecasts around the Earth," principal investigator Brian Anderson said. "Solar storms can disrupt satellite service and damage telecommunications networks, cause power grid blackouts and even endanger high-altitude aircraft."
Here's a related video about the project: