What is the need for space research?
One of the most common arguments I’ve heard and keep hearing, again and again, is that - Why should we spend money on sending satellites into space for research when there are several problems to be solved on the Earth? Especially for a country like India, where we need to focus on economic growth and not spend money on unnecessary projects. This seems to be a fair question. So let’s look at the problem to be solved on Earth and specifically crucial for all countries that need to grow economically - Electricity.
Let’s first define this problem to be solved in detail:
Do we have a consensus that electricity is a basic necessity in the 21st century? With our increasing reliance on electronic devices for work, communication, travel, etc., we can confidently say that electricity is one of our primal needs. Electricity generation and distribution are the two categories that have to be considered. Let’s focus on distribution for now, which we know has a vast set of problems. We know that natural calamities like extreme heat, flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc., can severely hamper electricity distribution.
Apart from these, there are some natural calamities triggered by Sun which can strike Earth and affect power generation and distribution; these include solar flares, coronal mass ejections(CMEs), high-speed solar wind, and solar energetic particles. Solar flares are intense bursts of radiation released from the Sun. This radiated energy can disrupt the area of the atmosphere in which radio waves travel. This can affect navigation and communication signals with recurring blackouts. While CMEs are large clouds of charged particles and magnetic fields erupted from Sun’s surface carried over by solar winds.
When they hit Earth’s magnetic field, these charged particles accelerate across Earth’s magnetic field in the upper atmosphere, where they collide with atmospheric particles creating auroras. The volume and spread of these charged particles colliding with atmospheric particles and the magnetic field carried over by solar winds result in Earth’s magnetic field oscillation. These magnetic oscillations can generate electrical currents and overload the electrical systems. If this happens without warning, the overload of electrical current in grids can bring down them and leave millions without electricity. A similar catastrophe in Quebec, Canada, in 1989 can serve as a reminder for us of how vulnerable our current infrastructure is to the helm of space weather. Only by accurately understanding the Sun’s atmosphere and how solar winds impact and interact with Earth and its atmosphere can we estimate a reasonably accurate prediction of future vents and mitigate its effects on our world.