Space agency seeks to create awareness of space weather effects on mining activities

Sansa's Space Weather Centre in Hermanus

Sansa's Space Weather Centre in Hermanus

Photo by Creamer Media's Rebecca Campbell

11th May 2023

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The mining industry is very unaware of space weather and of its susceptibility to space weather phenomena, South African National Space Agency (Sansa) Space Weather Centre MD Dr Lee-Anne McKinnell cautioned on Thursday. Space weather refers to events on the Sun which interact with Earth’s magnetic field and affect human technologies.

The three main types of space weather phenomena (colloquially called solar storms) are solar flares, high energetic particle streams and coronal mass ejections. These have different effects, and these effects also vary with the intensity of the particular phenomenon. Currently, the activity on the Sun is increasing, as it moves towards what is called solar maximum. “We are seeing more and more intense [solar] storms, weekly,” she reported.

“We’re vulnerable to space weather because of our dependence on modern technology,” she highlighted. For the mining sector, the main area of vulnerability that has so far been identified is directional drilling. For maximum efficiency this technique requires high precision, which is provided by satellite navigation systems (GNSS, often called GPS, which is the designation of the main such system, deployed by the US).

GNSS systems are vulnerable to space weather effects. A solar storm can degrade GNSS accuracy from around one metre to as much as 100 metres. Such degradation is temporary, and system accuracy will automatically be restored after the storm has passed. But activities requiring precision and relying on GNSS should not be undertaken during a solar storm.

“We need to create awareness in the mining sector,” she affirmed. “Once we’ve created this awareness, we’ll probably find other areas in mining that are also vulnerable to space weather.”

The Sansa Space Weather Centre provides 24/7 space weather observation and forecasting services. Located at the Sansa complex at Hermanus in the Western Cape province, it is the only such facility in Africa.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter


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