Space Weather


Space Weather Overview

 Though space is about a thousand times emptier than even the best laboratory vacuums on Earth, it’s not completely devoid of matter – the sun’s constant outflow of solar wind fills space with a thin and tenuous wash of particles, fields, and plasma. This solar wind, along with other solar events like giant explosions called coronal mass ejections, influences the very nature of space and can interact with the magnetic systems of Earth and other worlds. Such effects also change the radiation environment through which our spacecraft – and, one day, our astronauts headed to Mars – travel.  The space environment around Earth can also vary wildly in response not only to the Sun, but from upwelling atmospheric events from below.  Such space weather can interfere with satellite electronics, radio communications and GPS signals, spacecraft orbits, and even – when extreme – power grids on Earth. Like our terrestrial weather, space weather can be extreme at times, but exists all the time. As such, it is important to understand space weather in order to predict and accommodate to it.

Satellite view of Quebec power outage

Space Weather Strategy

Space weather’s widespread effects have raised awareness for space weather’s impact throughout NASA and the science community as whole. Priority 1 of the 2020 NASA Science Plan, Strategy 1.4 pertains directly to space weather: “Develop a Directorate-wide, target-user focused approach to applied programs, including Earth Science Applications, Space Weather, Planetary Defense, and Space Situational Awareness.” The Heliophysics Division has the preeminent role in addressing this priority. Understanding space weather is the domain of Heliophysics. Space weather is the applied expression of Heliophysics. To that end, a  NASA Heliophysics Space Weather Strategy was developed with the vision of advancing the science of space weather.

A six-part strategy, the Heliophysics Space Weather Strategy ties directly to the priorities outlined in the 2020 NASA Science Plan, the 2019 National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan, and the recommendations made in the 2013 Decadal Survey. Table 1 below summarizes this strategy. Each of the six goals are aligned to objectives that describe specific actions, missions and methods to achieve its attached goal.

SWxSA Strategy by Goal 






  1. Observe 

Advance observation techniques, technology, and capability 

1.1 Identify technologies and techniques for which enhanced or future investments would produce results that significantly and positively impact space weather understanding and prediction 

1.2 Create opportunities to develop observation techniques and instrumentation 

1.3 Establish and sustain recurrent flight cadence and supporting infrastructure opportunities for space weather instrumentation and missions 

1.4 Identify and implement the capability to ensure that real-time and latent data streams for space weather-relevant space observations are available 


  1. Analyze 

Advance research, analysis and modeling capability 

2.1 Identify analysis capabilities that advance space weather understanding and prediction 

2.2 Establish opportunities to support the develop improved data analysis and modeling capabilities 

2.3 Work with NSF and other Federal agencies to advance research and analysis capabilities relevant to space weather 


  1. Predict 

Improve space weather forecast and nowcast capabilities 

3.1 Develop a structure and process that funnels basic research information to an applied focus  


  1. Transition  

Transition capabilities to operational environments 

4.1 Create a pipeline that conveys the results and outputs of the NASA Heliophysics research and technology programs to a space weather proving ground environment where models and techniques are assessed 

4.2 In coordination with NOAA, establish a testbed capability to transition forecasting and nowcasting models (SWPC) and transition observations and data streams (NESDIS). 

4.3 Establish formal relationships between NASA and DoD to exchange data and observation capabilities, and effectively transition data, improved forecasting and nowcasting capabilities, and improved observation techniques. 


  1. Support 

Support Robotic and Human Exploration  

5.1 Advance the partnership between the Heliophysics Division and the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) to provide expertise on space environment conditions that enable the health and safety of astronauts beyond low-earth orbit  

5.2 Provide key real-time data streams to the Agency for forecasting, nowcasting, and anomaly resolution for robotic and crewed missions 


  1. Partner 

Meet National, International, and societal needs consistent with Government directives 

6.1 Secure the counsel of space weather expertise within the government, academia, commercial and private sector 

6.2 Provide key real-time data streams to sister agencies for forecasting, nowcasting, and anomaly resolution 

6.3 Continue active participation at the Executive level with OSTP 

6.4 Represent the U.S. in international space weather research fora to advance the global capability and enhance U.S. ability to meet its space weather needs 


Heliophysics Space Weather Missions

All of NASA's current Heliophysics missions contribute to a better understanding of the physical processes that drive the space environment around Earth and throughout the solar system.  The image below depicts the current operating missions in the Heliophysics Fleet, and provides a rough depiction of their place in the solar system.

Heliophysics mission fleet chart

Space Weather Science Application (SWxSA)

The Heliophysics Division Space Weather Science Application (SWxSA) initiative expands the role of NASA in space weather science under a single budget element and supports the multi-agency National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan. It competes ideas and products, leverages existing Agency capabilities, collaborates with other national and international agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), and partners with user communities to facilitate the effective transition of science knowledge to operational environments.


In 2019, thirteen research proposals were selected for the Heliophysics Space Weather Operations-to-Research (O2R) element, as part of the NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) program. This adds to a total of now thirty-nine funded investigations within O2R. These projects will help improve forecasts of the energetic proton and/or heavy ion conditions in the heliosphere due to solar eruptions.

The primary goal of this funding is to support research by the grant recipient to improve numerical models and/or data utilization techniques that could advance forecasting capabilities, and which could also lead to improved scientific understanding.

Information regarding proposal submission for the current O2R ROSES program element can be found here.


An important part of  the strategic plan is to engage the commercial sector. This is accomplished in part through the Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR).  Four space weather technology proposals were selected for Phase I in the SBIR program in 2019, and six more in 2020.  Two were selected for Phase II in 2018. This brings the total funded SBIR Phase 1 proposals to ten and Phase 2 proposals to two. These efforts range from developing model techniques, tools to support space weather extremes, and measurement technologies to measure radiation levels aboard aircraft.

Information regarding proposal submission for the SBIR program can be found here.

NSF-NASA Space Weather Next Generation Software for Data-driven Models of Space Weather with Quantified Uncertainties (NSF-NASA SWQU)

A further six investigations have been funded through the NSF-NASA joint SWQU call. This solicitation addresses the overlapping objectives of the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan (NSW-SAP) and the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) Update through a pilot program. The goal of this pilot program is to transform the development of predictive modeling of the coupled evolution of the magnetized solar atmosphere and the solar wind, and their interaction with the Earth’s magnetosphere and upper atmosphere.

Space Weather Council

The NASA Heliophysics Division established the NASA Space Weather Council (SWC) in 2020 as a subcommittee to the Heliophysics Advisory Committee (HPAC). The SWC was established as a means to secure the counsel of community experts across diverse areas, on matters relevant to space weather in support of the NASA Heliophysics Division (HPD).

The SWC serves as a community-based, interdisciplinary forum for soliciting and coordinating community analysis and input and providing advice. It provides advice to the Heliophysics Advisory Committee (HPAC) of the NASA Heliophysics Division (HPD). The SWC will directly support the Heliophysics Division Space Weather Science Application (SWxSA) objectives.

Space Weather Instruments and Missions (SWIMS) Request for Information (RFI)

NASA HPD is seeking information under this Request for Information (RFI) to assess community interest, concepts, and rough order of magnitude (ROM) cost for small complete missions, instrument suites, or single instruments, that if flown in space would directly address space weather science and/or observational needs. These instruments, suites, and missions could be flown as secondary payloads on rideshare missions or as hosted payloads on satellites or other platforms. Information collected through this RFI will support programmatic decisions regarding approaches for secondary or hosted payload opportunities on future Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Heliophysics launches or missions.

National Space Weather Program

NASA heliophysics works as the research arm of the nation's space weather effort, coordinating with other federal agencies, including the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, on the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan. In addition to research missions, NASA also supports improvements in space weather prediction models, such as those used by NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, the U.S. government's official source for space weather forecasts.

Gateway and the Artemis Program

The Heliophysics division is working closely with the Artemis Program to support the human exploration of deep space and on potential approaches to measure the radiation environment on and around the Moon. These measurements will aid in the prediction and validation of the radiation environment to which our astronauts will be subjected.


To this end, the Heliophysics Division is providing radiation and space weather instruments on the Lunar Gateway, an early key component of the Artemis Program. The selection of the Heliophysics Environmental and Radiation Measurement Experiment Suite (HERMES) was publicly announced in March 2020. The European Space Agency will also provide a radiation instrument package. In coordination with the Heliophysics two-spacecraft mission THEMIS/ARTEMIS already in lunar orbit, the Gateway observations will initiate a heliophysics lunar constellation to conduct science investigations not possible before. This payload will enable meaningful science, support Artemis, and be forward looking to crewed missions to Mars.