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LOFAR for Space Weather

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - LOFAR4SW (LOFAR for Space Weather)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

The LOFAR for Space Weather project (LOFAR4SW) addresses the Horizon 2020 Work Programme, and the INFRADEV-1-2017 Call – ‘Design Studies’. The project will deliver the full conceptual and technical design for creating a new leading-edge European research facility for space weather science. The LOFAR4SW project is engaging stakeholders in preparation of the facility which produces unique research data with key impact on advanced predictions of space weather events affecting crucial technological infrastructures of today’s society.

LOFAR4SW is designing a significant upgrade of hardware, algorithms and software that maximally leverages the technology and infrastructure of the LOw Frequency ARray (LOFAR), already the world’s foremost telescope for radio astronomy research in the low-frequency 10-240 MHz observing window, and a widely recognised enabler of technological innovation.

An important gap in the world’s space weather research capabilities must be filled by unlocking the low-frequency radio window. Building on the technology and European coverage of the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT) infrastructure, a fully implemented LOFAR4SW system will be designed to observe the sun, heliosphere, and ionosphere constantly. LOFAR4SW will enable ground breaking advancement in a wide range of solar and space weather research topics and have unique strengths in several high-impact science areas: tracking the initial launch of a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME); detailed tracking of the solar wind and CMEs through interplanetary space; in-depth studies of micro-structure in the Earth’s ionosphere. The LOFAR4SW facility is the only way to obtain transformational 3-dimensional tomographic data on velocities and densities that track space weather dynamics throughout space between the Sun and the Earth (the inner heliosphere). This facility will uniquely provide the missing link of measurements of the interplanetary magnetic field on those global scales – a key parameter in forecasting the severity of geomagnetic storm on Earth.

Cutting-edge LOFAR observing and data analysis technology has strongly advanced in recent years, enabling world-leading results from large-scale research programmes across many areas of radio astronomy science. Based on that state-of-the-art, LOFAR4SW is now designing a significant upgrade, in which simultaneous, independent observing modes and signal paths provide continuous access to two research communities: radio astronomy and space weather. This can immediately be implemented to function as a major leading-edge observatory for space weather science, in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost that would be involved in developing a fully new facility (the investment in realizing substantial LOFAR4SW science capabilities is estimated to be of order 15 M€, as compared to investments in LOFAR totalling upward of 150 M€ to date). The LOFAR4SW design effort is proceeding in optimal synergy with significant upgrades of the LOFAR infrastructure for radio astronomy purposes (“LOFAR2.0”) that are under way independently.
The LOFAR4SW design study follows a comprehensive Systems Engineering approach, tailored for this project. The effort breaks down naturally into eight cohesive Work Packages, interrelated through a well-defined workflow, that incorporates a set of milestones and internal project workshops and review meetings, with appropriate interaction points between the work packages.

The project started in December 2017 with the preliminary design phase that culminated with a review in February 2019. The project continued with the detailed design phase during 2019. To validate the design, two review sessions were held; a delta review November 2019 and the final detailed design review in March 2020. Both reviews involved external experts. The reviewers were impressed by the amount of work and documentation presented and expressed its confidence in the team's competence to deliver a compliant tile design.

2020 was dedicated to the prototype phase in which two dual-beam High Band antennas tiles are developed; one that focuses on all individual blocks and a second that integrates the components. The tile performance was verified using observations of celestial sources to test calibration, beam pattern, and sensitivity. Currently, prototype 2 is under development with two implementations for the Low Noise Amplifier and Beam former functions.

System and sub-system requirements derived from the use cases guided the detailed design of the requisite hardware, software, and operational procedures for the LOFAR4SW upgrade. A hardware test platform is in place at the Chilbolton (UK) station. Several pilot and demonstration observing sessions have taken place using innovative instrumental setups and prototype data analysis software. The Chibolton test station, consisting of 4 HBA tiles, is running and recording data semi-continuously since November 2020.

A highly productive workshop held in May 2018 with experts from the broad global space weather research community resulted in a comprehensive collection of Science Use cases. A strong focus towards modelling for forecasting and prediction purposes must be balanced by a continuing drive towards key unanswered fundamental physical questions. Therefore, use cases were prioritized on scientific and operational merit, after consulting with a large group of external experts during the End User Workshop held online in May 2020.
LOFAR4SW aims to redefine how next-generation radio telescopes can advance the state-of-the art in space weather science and operations. Building on LOFAR, which is cutting-edge to start with, the LOFAR4SW project will design the most advanced space weather radio instrument in the world. Space weather can have socioeconomic impact in multiple ways, including damage to radio communication infrastructure and electricity grids. The LOFAR4SW facility will provide ground-breaking insights applicable for the forecasting of any adverse impact on this societal infrastructure, ultimately contributing to a greater protection of humanity's most essential technologies.

The use cases compiled in the LOFAR4SW project confirm the impressive impact that the envisaged LOFAR4SW upgrade will have. This high potential has already been publicised at several well-attended conferences in the field; comprehensive publication of the collected use cases is in preparation. In order to inform key members of the space weather community about the unique capabilities of LOFAR4SW, and to obtain further feedback at this stage of the design, a first end-user workshop is being planned for autumn 2019.

The LOFAR4SW project increases the European innovation potential by delivering new data analysis algorithms and tools to the community. Through a series of workshops and presentations, it aims to create a broad awareness of these new technologies, and a focused and timely support base of knowledgeable scientists ready to use the LOFAR4SW facility from its inception. The project also will seek interaction with policy makers, space weather services, and other stakeholders in order to lay down concept designs for operations and governance that will facilitate the trans-national implementation of the facility and will optimize its exploitation across the European and international space weather research communities.
Graphic on LOFAR4SW
Leaflet on LOFAR4SW