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Estimating satellite orbital drag during historical magnetic superstorms
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  • Denny M. Oliveira,
  • Eftyhia Zesta,
  • Hisashi Hayakawa,
  • Ankush T. Bhaskar
Denny M. Oliveira
University of Maryland, Baltimore County, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Corresponding Author:denny@umbc.edu

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Eftyhia Zesta
NASA Goddard, NASA Goddard
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Hisashi Hayakawa
Osaka University, Osaka University
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Ankush T. Bhaskar
NASA/Goddard space Flight Center, NASA/Goddard space Flight Center
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Understanding extreme space weather events is of paramount importance in efforts to protect technological systems in space and on the ground. Particularly in the thermosphere, the subsequent extreme magnetic storms can pose serious threats to low-Earth orbit (LEO) spacecraft by intensifying errors in orbit predictions. Extreme magnetic storms (minimum Dst ≤ -250 nT) are extremely rare: only 7 events occurred during the era of spacecraft with high-level accelerometers such as CHAMP (CHAllenge Mini-satellite Payload) and GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate experiment), and none with minimum Dst ≤ -500 nT, here termed magnetic superstorms. Therefore, current knowledge of thermospheric mass density response to magnetic superstorms is very limited. Thus, in order to advance this knowledge, 4 historical magnetic superstorms, i.e., events occurring before CHAMP’s and GRACE’s commission times, are used to empirically estimate density enhancements and subsequent orbital drag. The November 2003 magnetic storm (minimum Dst = -422 nT), the most extreme event observed by both satellites, is used as the benchmark event. Results show that, as expected, orbital degradation is more severe for the most intense storms. Additionally, results clearly point out that the time duration of the storm is strongly associated with storm-time orbital drag effects, being as important as or even more important than storm intensity itself. The most extreme storm-time decays during CHAMP/GRACE-like sample satellite orbits estimated for the March 1989 magnetic superstorm show that long-lasting superstorms can have highly detrimental consequences for the orbital dynamics of satellites in LEO.
Nov 2020Published in Space Weather volume 18 issue 11. 10.1029/2020SW002472