Space weather innovation, measurement, modelling and risk (SWIMMR)

Programme overview

SWIMMR is a £20 million, four-year programme that will improve the UK’s capabilities for space weather monitoring and prediction. There is an emphasis on space radiation which can affect aircraft systems, changes in the upper atmosphere affecting communications, and surges in the current in power grids and other ground-level systems. These are significant risks to the infrastructures we rely on in daily life and are recorded in the UK’s National Risk Register.

SWIMMR is developing and deploying new instruments, models and services to support the UK space weather community and the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre. This programme will significantly add to the UK’s capability to predict and mitigate the hazards of space weather, as well as providing a basis for wider international collaboration over the four-year lifetime of the proposal and beyond.

The funding forms part of the Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF), delivered by UKRI to drive an increase in high quality multi and interdisciplinary research and innovation. It helps ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research priorities and opportunities. The programme is a collaboration led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence. The programme has been outlined in close association with the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC).

The programme is being delivered through a series of activities managed by either STFC or NERC. The STFC funding component is delivered via a mixture of open funding opportunities for research projects and commissioned work under standard public sector procurement rules, while the NERC component is delivered through three-year research grants. Both types of activity will directly help improve the ability of the Met Office to predict space weather events so as to reduce their potential impact.

Background and objectives

The SWIMMR programme will facilitate a significant improvement in the UK’s monitoring and forecasting capabilities for space weather, to mitigate those aspects with the highest potential for impact on economic and societal activities. This is needed because of the UK’s ever-increasing reliance on modern technology; not just our growing dependence on space-based systems for communications, global positioning and timekeeping but our aspirations to become a leading spacefaring nation, based on capabilities to both launch and support UK-licensed space assets.

As well as operation of satellites and other space hardware, the programme addresses space weather effects at lower altitudes, such as radiation effects on aviation, and on the Earth’s surface, such as Geomagnetically Induced Currents (GICs) in power grids. When realised in the correct way, the benefits will be manifest in both the governmental and commercial sectors. This ability to produce a world-leading capability for space weather forecasting and mitigation will not only safeguard our considerable national investment in space-based infrastructure (now part of CNI), but also confirm the UK’s reputation as an international leader, with potential to collaborate with key partners internationally.

SWIMMR has the following high-level objectives, each of which includes a number of lower-level objectives.

High-level objective 1

To mitigate the potential radiation hazards of space weather to satellites and aviation operations:

  • produce and operate one or more miniaturised radiation monitors for use in satellite and aerospace applications
  • facilitate the testing and modelling of the response of technological systems to radiation
  • deploy and operate a network of ground-based radiation monitors to better quantify the radiation hazards for the aerospace industry
  • produce an updated and improved set of models for nowcasting and forecasting radiation effects on spacecraft to be used in services delivered by MOSWOC
  • produce an updated and improved set of models for nowcasting and forecasting radiation effects on air traffic and other aerospace users to be used in services delivered by MOSWOC
  • produce an updated and improved set of products and models for forecasting the impact of atmospheric drag on spacecraft to be used in services delivered by MOSWOC.

High-level objective 2

To mitigate potential space weather effects on communication and global positioning:

  • improve the UK modelling of the ionospheric effects on radio communications (both HF and trans-ionospheric propagation) to be used in services delivered by MOSWOC.

High-level objective 3

To mitigate the potential risks of space weather to electric power distribution:

  • produce an updated and improved set of products and services for forecasting the impact of Geomagnetically Induced Currents on power grids and make them available through MOSWOC
  • improve and operationalise the current suite of models for predicting the evolution of the solar wind from the Sun to the L1 Lagrange point.

In addition to this, the project has the following overarching objectives:

  • establish a world leading UK system for space weather modelling and forecasting
    position the UK as a global leader in monitoring and mitigating effects of space weather
  • develop a framework for supporting the transition of models and data sets from research in the academic community to operational use for space weather forecasting by MOSWOC​
  • produce an updated space weather impact assessment study, building on the Royal Academy of Engineering report of 2013.

Background

The SWIMMR proposal originated from a submission to the STFC exercise in Developing a world-class programme, which was undertaken in June 2018. The idea was further developed for submission to Wave 2 of UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund in discussions between STFC, NERC and the Met Office, with support from the Chief Scientists of the Department of Business, Education and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence. The business case was submitted to BEIS in March 2019, outline approval was given in June 2019, with final approval from the BEIS Project and Investment Committee in August of this year. The programme was originally planned to run from April 2019 to March 2023 and was subsequently extended to March 2024.

Timing

2019 to 2024

Can I apply for a grant?

The NERC and STFC calls for SWIMMR proposals have now closed. Some STFC procurement activities remain to be advertised. Links to these advertisements will appear on our funding finder.

Budget

The overall budget for the programme is £19.9 million, of which approximately half is being delivered by STFC through a mixture of grants and commissioned work. The other half of the funding is being delivered by NERC, through a series of research grants.

Programme awards

Details of the funded projects for the NERC call of the UKRI SWIMMR research programme are available at Grants on the Web. For the projects of the STFC call, details are available at RAL Space.

Management

The governance of the SWIMMR programme encompasses a number of different bodies which undertake different roles:

Programme board

The programme board is responsible for providing the strategic direction for the programme and overseeing the delivery of the programme’s objectives. It meets monthly, is the ultimate decision-making authority for the programme and is comprised of representatives from UKRI and departmental partners, together with a representative of the Met Office, the chair of the SWIMMR Strategic Advisory Group, and the Project Director (from STFC).

The membership of the SPF SWIMMR programme board is as follows:

  • Chris Mutlow (STFC, Chair, SRO)
  • Ian McCrea (STFC, Programme Manager)
  • Gemma Attrill (DSTL)
  • Tom Perry (BEIS)
  • Jon Hunt (Department for Transport)
  • Simon Machin (UK Met Office)
  • Jacky Wood (NERC)
  • Justin O’Byrne (STFC Programme Office).

Strategic advisory board

The SWIMMR strategic advisory board, which meets every three months, supports the work of the programme board, through the provision of high-level scientific and technical advice. Its remit covers liaison with the various scientific, technical and industrial stakeholders of the programme, advice to the programme board about potential opportunities to align the activities of the SWIMMR programme with synergistic programmes elsewhere and recommendations on ways to implement the SWIMMR outcomes in a way that maximises the impact of the programme.

The membership of the SPF SWIMMR strategic advisory board is currently being developed and will be approved by the programme board.

The membership of the SPF SWIMMR strategic advisory group is as follows:

  • David Southwood (Imperial College, London – Emeritus, Chair)
  • David Gibbs (Civil Aviation Authority)
  • Mark Gibbs (UK Met Office)
  • David Jackson (UK Met Office)
  • Keith Groves (Boston College, USA)
  • Andy Proctor (Rethink PNT)
  • Matthew Johns-Chapman (Rolls Royce)
  • Andrew Richards (National Grid)
  • Graham Routledge (Defence Science and Technology Labs – DSTL).

Governing board​

The programme board and the strategic advisory group meet jointly every six months, in the form of a governing board chaired by BEIS.

Secretariat

The secretariat is based at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). RAL liaises with the programme governing bodies to ensure efficient delivery of programme activities, coordinates funding activities and provides administrative support to the programme board and strategic advisory board.

Find more information about the programme

Email: ralspaceenquiries@stfc.ac.uk

Last updated: 5 April 2022

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