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PECASUS – Pan-European Consortium for Aviation Space weather User Services

Research Topic Chapter
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Space weather can affect aviation by causing degradation of radio/satellite communication, on-board system failure, high radiation doses for air travellers, and disturbances in signal reception from navigation satellites. Air travel is global, and the mitigation of traffic disruptions requires international cooperation. The Council of International Civil Aviation Organisation has designated the PECASUS consortium as one of three global space weather service centres. The Space Weather group at BIRA-IASB will be responsible for the coordination of the radiation expert group within PECASUS and for the provision of scientific support to the operators on duty.
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Radiation at flight level

The radiation environment at aviation altitudes is shaped mainly by:

  • Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR)
  • occasional Solar Energetic Particle (SEP) events

Both these phenomena are comprised of high energetic particles (mainly protons with energies > 500 MeV) that interact with Earth's atmosphere and generate secondary particles. High-energy protons entering the funnel-like cusps in the Earth's magnetic field above the north and south poles impact not only the health of crew and passengers, but also the operation of electronic devices and HF communications.

An elevated radiation level recorded on Earth due to an SEP event is known as a Ground Level Enhancement (GLE). 

The PECASUS consortium

The PECASUS consortium has been established in response to the recent call from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to provide a Global Space Weather Information Service. The requested (24/7) service focuses on the dissemination of warning messages ('advisories') towards aviation actors and corresponds to extreme space weather events with impact on:

  • aviation GNSS systems
  • satellite communications
  • HF communication
  • radiation levels at flight altitudes

The PECASUS team consists of a number of European partners with proven space weather service capabilities and expertise, with FMI (Finland) as leader and being responsible for communications towards the aviation sector. The Advisory Messages will be produced by the STCE (Belgium) based on expert interpretation and analysis of data streams produced by:

  • DLR (Germany)
  • INGV (Italy)
  • Seibersdorf Laboratories (Austria)
  • STCE (Belgium)
  • SRC (Poland)
  • FU (Cyprus)

In addition, the MetOffice (UK) will act as a backup in case of a major failure in the network, while the KNMI (The Netherlands) will take care of user liaison and monitor the PECASUS performance.

On basis of its expertise in the field of particle radiation and related effects on technology and human health, gained through several projects (e.g. COMESEP, SEPEM, SPENVIS), the Space Weather group at BIRA-IASB has been attributed the role of coordinator of the radiation expert group and provider of scientific support for compiling the radiation advisories. The service operation will start in 2019.

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Figure 1: Aviation radiation environment (Tobiska et al., 2015)
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Figure 2 Enhanced solar activity may increase radiation doses at flight altitude, impact communication and navigation. (PECASUS credits)