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Geomagentic storm predicted this weekend, what does that mean for broadcast satellites?

While the Coronal Mass Ejection is unlikely to impact satellite broadcasts, companies are taking measures to ensure TV signals are not interrupted

The huge sunspot region that led to the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) being visible across much of the UK on 10th May has rotated back towards Earth.

The coronal mass ejection (CME) is anticipated to hit Earth tomorrow (June 1st).

The sunspot has been “reasonably active” according to the UK’s Met Office, responsible for a couple of low X-class flares, one of which released a coronal mass ejection on Thursday.

“Given its location, most of the mass of the CME will be directed away from Earth but should we receive a glancing blow and there is a potential for minor to moderate (G1 / G2) geomagnetic storming on 1st June,” the Met Office tells TVBEurope.

Image of the Northern Lights showing green, purple and red colours over the Cairngorms in Scotland

However, the CME is predicted to be much weaker than the G5 the UK experienced earlier this month, restricting aurora sightings to the north of the UK (Scotland / NI) where the lack of darkness will limit viewing opportunities.

“As the sunspot moves across the sun we’ll get a better view of it, see how complex it is looking compared to a few weeks ago and assess the potential for further space weather. We’re also continuing to assess other sunspot regions which have the potential to release Earth-directed CMEs,” added the Met Office.

But what does that mean for objects in space? According to the Met Office, this latest CME is not expected to impact satellites.

However, satellite companies will take measures to ensure their hardware is safe during the event.

ETV-A1, a satellite used by UK company Sen, which films Earth in 4K, is usually placed in an ‘idle’ state during solar storm activity.

“This precaution is common during strong solar activity and is implemented by the satellite operator, NanoAvionics, to avoid the risk of damage to the satellite’s electronics and systems,” says Sen founder and CEO Charles Black. 

“When in an idle state it means we can’t power on our cameras to film, nor download film we’ve taken. It’s all just a precaution against the risk of solar radiation affecting the on-board electronics.”

SES, one of the biggest satellite companies in the broadcast space, is also closely tracking this weekend’s CME, despite it being expected to impact satellite TV and Radio Frequency propagation.

“Our satellites have been designed to resist electromagnetic radiation in the space environment and continue to operate and perform nominally throughout this period,” explains Steve Bisenius, VP of media solutions at SES. “There is no expected impact on viewers.”