The upper atmosphere is a transition region between the neutron-dominated aviation environment and satellite environment where primary protons and ions dominate. We report high altitude balloon measurements and model results characterising this radiation environment for single event effects (SEE) in avionics. Our data, from the RaySure solid-state radiation monitor, reveal markedly different altitude profiles for low linear energy transfer (LET) and high LET energy depositions. We use models to show that the difference is caused by the influence of primary cosmic ray particles, which induce counts in RaySure via both direct and indirect ionization. Using the new Model of Atmospheric Ionizing Radiation Effects (MAIRE), we use particle fluxes and LET spectra to calculate single event upset (SEU) rates as a function of altitude from ground level to the edge of space at 100 km altitude. The results have implications for a variety of applications including high altitude space tourism flights, UAVs and missions to the Martian surface.
Data from ground-level radiation monitors and cosmogenic nuclides are combined to a give a probability distribution for severe radiation events related to the well quantified event of 23 February 1956. Particle fluxes, single event effects rates and dose rates are calculated for ground-level and aerospace systems. The event of February 1956 would provide a challenge to air safety while more extreme events seen in historical records would challenge safety-critical ground systems. A new space weather hazard scale based on this event could be used to give rapid assessment of the radiation hazard using high latitude neutron monitor data.
Ground level enhancements (GLEs) are space weather events that pose a potential hazard to the aviation environment through single event effects in avionics and increased dose to passengers and crew. The existing ground level neutron monitoring network provides continuous and well-characterized measurements of the radiation environment. However, there are only a few dozen active stations worldwide, and there has not been a UK-based station for several decades. Much smaller neutron detectors are increasingly deployed throughout the world with the purpose of using secondary neutrons from cosmic rays to monitor local soil moisture conditions (COSMOS). Space weather signals from GLEs and Forbush decreases have been identified in COSMOS data. Monte Carlo simulations of atmospheric radiation propagation show that a single COSMOS detector is sufficient to detect the signal of a medium-strength (10%–100% increase above background) GLE at high statistical significance, including at fine temporal resolution. Use of fine temporal resolution would also provide a capability to detect Terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes (via secondary neutrons) which are produced by certain lightning discharges and which can provide a hazard to aircraft, particularly in tropical regions. We also show how the COsmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System-UK detector network could be used to provide warnings at the International Civil Aviation Organization “Moderate” and “Severe” dose rate thresholds at aviation altitudes, and how multiple-detector hubs situated at strategic UK locations could detect a small GLE at high statistical significance and infer crucial information on the nature of the primary spectrum.