Space radiation is a risk in many areas of modern society and there is a risk to business that many organisations never consider. Air travel, power grids and communications networks are prime areas of risk should a space weather event occur.
This research paper from Lloyds Insurance gave me a working understanding of the causes and possible effects of space weather. For most organisations, this would be a useful primer for the issues so that you can add them to risk register (big companies love those) and you look pretty smart.
Source: Space weather – Lloyd’s – The world’s specialist insurance market. Also known as Lloyd’s of London; is a market where members join together as syndicates to insure risks. – https://www.lloyds.com/news-and-insight/risk-insight/library/natural-environment/space-weather
Local Copy: 7311_Lloyds_360_Space Weather_03.pdf
Excerpt: Single event effects
Modern business processes and systems are increasingly controlled by software systems based on digital chips. Space radiation is a major cause of error in such devices. 19, 20 Neutrons produced by energetic particles from space regularly pass through them and may ﬂip the state of digital elements. These SEEs can corrupt data and software held in chips and thereby affect the operation of systems controlled by the chip. There is a continuous low level risk of SEEs from cosmic rays and a greatly enhanced risk during severe space radiation storms.
This risk is particularly serious for aircraft systems as the intensity of radiation from space at aircraft cruising altitudes is much higher than that on the ground. A recent example is that the effects of space radiation on avionics are being considered as a possible cause of a serious in-ﬁght problem on an Australian aircraft in October 2008. 21 Nonetheless, SEEs do occur at the Earth’s surface, and chip vendors will stress the need to protect critical applications of their chips; for example, by use of hardened chips. 22
It is important that businesses are aware of single event risks and integrate risk mitigation into design and procurement processes. This may be done by radiation hardening of components (good chip design can signiﬁcantly reduce risk), and ensuring that any control circuit affected by SEEs is outvoted by at least two correctly functioning circuits. In the UK the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has worked with industry to raise awareness of these issues. There are also efforts to improve radiation testing; for example, a facility to simulate effects of neutrons on aircraft systems has recently been developed as part of the ISIS facility for neutron science at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. 23
However, the most intense space radiation storms can produce huge short-lived increases in radiation levels at the Earth’s surface (for example, on 23 February 1956, a 50-fold increase was observed). Similar events could now produce such high levels of SEEs that the mitigation measures outlined above might not cope. During these rare but extreme storms it may be necessary to take additional steps to mitigate the risk. For example, reducing the height at which aircraft ﬂy: a reduction from 40,000ft to 25,000ft would signiﬁcantly reduce the occurrence of SEEs. Many short-haul ﬂights could continue, but long-haul ﬂights would be severely impacted, eg through increased fuel consumption. This would decrease aircraft range, thus requiring extra stops for fuel on many routes and closure of some transoceanic routes where fuel stops are not feasible.