Vigil mission a ‘huge step forward’ for space weather forecasting 

Confirmation of the long-awaited Vigil mission is a ‘huge step forward’ for space weather forecasting according to the Met Office’s Mark Gibbs.  

The confirmation was made as part of a UK government announcement committing £1.84billion for a range of important space programmes at this year’s European Space Agency Council of Minister meeting, held in Paris.  

For space weather forecasting, the Vigil mission will greatly improve space weather forecasting capabilities, with the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre one of a number of centres that will benefit from the new satellite.  

Vigil will provide a continuous side-on view of the gap between the Sun and the Earth, allowing forecasters to track and monitor coronal mass ejections (CMEs) with increased accuracy, as well as identify sunspot groups earlier, allowing key industry and infrastructure more time to take steps to mitigate any impacts.  

L1 is the position of the existing satellite for space weather. L5 would provide a new perspective for tracking the Sun’s activity.

Mark Gibbs, who leads the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre, said: “A formal agreement for the Vigil mission for ESA is a huge step forward for our space weather forecasting capability. As one of a handful of 24/7 space weather forecasting centres in the world, this new satellite mission will replace an aging monitoring mission helping us improve our forecasting capability for space weather events and further deepen our scientific understanding of CMEs that generate geomagnetic storms.   

A side-on view of the Sun will provide us with more advanced and reliable data to monitor CMEs, improving our ability to forecast the arrival of these, potentially high impact events, at the Earth. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with ESA on the mission and the data it will produce to ensure there’s as much benefit as possible to both ourselves, but also international forecasting partners, to help mitigate the impacts of space weather.” 

Benefits of the L1/L5 combination. The graphic shows the front-on perspective of the L1 satellite, and what would be the side-on perspective of the L5 satellite.
L1 is the position of the existing satellite for space weather. L5 will provide a new side-on perspective.

Impactful space weather has the potential to affect everyone and is a medium-high risk on the UK’s National Risk Register. The ability to forecast these events can help mitigate the worst impacts to infrastructure. 

The European Space Agency will manage the mission development and launch, which will take place at the end of this decade and will revolutionise the imagery and data available to space weather forecasters.  

The announcements also included a boost for the earth observation sector.  

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