A A A

Detection and Monitoring of Earthquake Precursors: TwinSat, a Russia-UK Satellite Project

Twin Sat in orbit


Introduction. The mitigation of earthquake damage and loss of life remains of great concern. It is argued that we can expect fatalities from a single event of more than 1 million in this century. Economic impact can be enormous – it is estimated that the Kobe earthquake alone caused ~$100 billion in damage. The Chinese government has spent about $150 billion to rebuild areas ravaged by the Sichuan earthquake. An estimated three million people were affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 316 000 people had died and 1 000 000 made homeless. The March 2011 earthquakes and tsunami in Japan killed more than 10 000 people, destroyed many costal cities and caused damage to atomic power plant and leaks of radioactive substances into the atmosphere and sea water. According to The New York Times (March 15, 2011) Japanese insurance companies, global insurers and reinsures, hedge funds and other investors in catastrophe bonds all expected to bear a portion of the losses that seem likely to exceed $100 billion. One of the largest reinsurance companies Munich Re has estimated the losses of world economy caused by the March 11 catastrophic event in Japan at $265 billion.

All this is a strong motivation to the development of efficient space and ground technologies for detection and monitoring earthquake precursors as the most important element of a future disasters forecasting system.

TwinSat is a two-stage space project destined for the development and practical implementation of efficient space and ground technologies for early detection and monitoring of large magnitude earthquake precursors to improve an accuracy and reliability of short-term forecasting the time and position of impending earthquakes.

Stage 1 includes the development, launching into orbit and 2 year operation of two experimental spacecraft, the micro satellite TwinSat-1M and the nano satellite TwinSat-1N, coordinated with accompanying ground-based observations on geophysical polygons in selected seismically active zones. The satellites and ground stations will observe a range of signals that have been shown to be related to earthquake precursors and search for new precursory signals. The novel use of two satellites will allow better discrimination of earthquake signals from other naturally occurring phenomena in the ionosphere. This stage concludes with the conceptual design and feasibility determination of a follow-on satellite constellation for reliable earthquake prediction taking into consideration the danger of false alarms and ambiguity.

Stage 2 is devoted to the development and deployment of a practical System for Detection and Monitoring of Earthquake Precursors. This system, which will be designed at the end of Stage 1, will most likely include a satellite constellation of approximately 15 spacecraft, the airborne laboratories, the network of geophysical stations in seismic areas and the complete ground infrastructure providing operation of the system as a whole and delivery of an early warning service.

Description of the problem. Annually mankind suffers huge financial losses associated with earthquakes and other natural disasters estimated in many billions of dollars, together with huge loss of life, loss of livelihood and social disruption. With an effective early warning system much of this loss could be avoided. The cost of such a system would be extremely small compared to its benefits. Each large earthquake reminds us of the necessity to pool international intellectual, industrial and financial resources for creation of an effective means for disaster prediction, monitoring and mitigation on a world-wide and regional bases. While assets already exist for international disaster monitoring, prediction remains an unfulfilled aspiration.

Until now major part of experimental results on the ionospheric precursors to earthquakes has been acquired in uncoordinated satellite missions designated for the investigation of different phenomena in space plasma while the earthquake effects on the ionosphere have been obtained as attendant scientific findings. An only purposeful experimental study of earthquake related phenomena in space was recently carried out within the DEMETER satellite project by the cooperation of French institutions with participation of numerous collaborators over the world. Such a study is necessary given the complex interaction of the phenomena observed and their often indirect character. Though it was successful mission the nature of lithosphere-ionosphere coupling, and the mechanisms for the transformation of seismic processes into electromagnetic and plasma disturbances in space and the modification of chemical composition and electrodynamic parameters of the atmosphere are not completely understood. The value as predictors of many phenomena and processes considered to be related to earthquake precursors needs to be confirmed and assessed. Due to the small magnitudes of seismic related disturbances there is a problem of detection sensitivity above a background of strong interfering signals related to other natural or man-made phenomena. Therefore realization of the overall project aim to create an early warning system must begin with the launch and operation of experimental spacecraft coordinated with accompanying ground-based observations.

TwinSat-1 is the first part of a two - stage program devoted to the development of a System for the Detection and Monitoring of Earthquake Precursors. This system will provide global coverage for the comprehensive monitoring of a wide range of short-term earthquake precursors. TwinSat-1 will involve a detailed and coordinated study of earthquake precursory signals including those observable in the ionosphere, leading to a broadening of the number of the parameters used for earthquake prediction. Part of the TwinSat project involves optimization of how such earthquake precursor data can be combined to provide the highest possible sensitivity and reliability of prediction. The methods and means developed in the framework of this work will be used also for monitoring and early warning of volcano eruptions. The final target is reducing the risks and minimization of human and financial losses caused by earthquake and volcanic events.

Urgency of the considered problem is evident. It is widely discussed in mass media, in scientific and business communities, etc., and these discussions become especially hot after each next disastrous event. Topicality of the project has been confirmed by Royal Aeronautical Society at Yuri Gagarin’s Legacy Space Conference (London, 16th March 2011).

How does project solve the problem. The Russia-UK TwinSat project is based on the latest achievements in study of seismo-ionospheric coupling and the formation mechanisms of disturbances in near Earth space at the preparation and development phases of earthquakes. The following form the basis of the TwinSat project:

● A wide, complex set of phenomena related to earthquakes is observed by modern geophysical instruments in the atmosphere and the ionosphere;

● Many of these phenomena are observed during the earthquake preparation period days and weeks before the seismic event. These phenomena can be considered as the precursors to earthquakes and so be used for the purposes of short-term earthquake forecasting;

● Reliable short-term prediction can be achieved through a combination of complex observations and analysis of the wide variety of precursors signals, detected through diverse methods in different media: on the ground, in the atmosphere and in space;

● Space-based monitoring of earthquake precursors has fundamental significance for achieving short-term earthquake prediction because it provides global surveillance of seismic activity effects and enables measurement of a number of precursor signals inaccessible by ground-based or air-borne facilities;

● The effectiveness and reliability of a space-based earthquake forecasting system is likely to be greater if supported by ground-based and airborne facilities.

The objectives of the proposed TwinSat-1 program are:

● To validate current experimental findings and theoretical models addressing the short-term earthquake precursors through specialized and coordinated two-satellite and ground based observations;

● To develop a comprehensive theoretical model describing the formation and interconnection of the precursor signals and the causal mechanism(s) between the driving seismic activity and the ionospheric signatures;

● To search for new precursory signals and estimate potential for accuracy improvement of forecasting the time and position of impending earthquakes;

● To determine the feasibility of a follow-on satellite constellation for reliable earthquake prediction taking into consideration the danger of false alarms and ambiguity;

● To evaluate possible ‘earthquake occurrence probability algorithms’ based on the above results.

● To create a conceptual design for a comprehensive System for the Detection and Monitoring of Earthquake Precursors.

The links between the seismo-tectonic processes and atmosphere/ionosphere earthquake precursors remain poorly understood. While the complex and dynamic nature of the earthquake precursor phenomena requires spatial, spectral, and temporal coverage that is beyond any single payload, we believe a dedicated twin satellite mission, together with coordinated ground stations, could make considerable progress in this area.

Two mother daughter platforms - the micro satellite TwinSat-1M and the nano satellite TwinSat-1N, will operate at a controllable separation. An inter-satellite radio link provides transmission of scientific information from TwinSat-1N to TwinSat-1M, where it is stored in high capacity onboard memory for the subsequent delivery of the whole data set from the two satellites to an appropriate ground telemetry station. Use of two satellites with controlled separation is the essence of the Project innovative approach, which creates a significant advance over other missions. Two satellites enable synchronous measurements of the precursor signals in separated points along the orbit to determine their spatial structure and the dynamic characteristics such as their propagation velocity, temporal/spatial variations, etc. This will allow significantly improved recognition and discrimination of earthquake precursor signals from a background of other sources.

In addition, the development and test of a scheme of joint operation and in-orbit information exchange between two very small platforms will enable future cost effective satellite constellation for monitoring of large-scale natural disasters.

Stage 2 of the TwinSat project is devoted to the development and deployment of practical System for Detection and Monitoring of Earthquake Precursors. This system, which will be designed at the end of Stage 1, will most likely include a satellite constellation of about 15 spacecraft, the airborne laboratories, the network of geophysical stations in seismic areas and the complete ground infrastructure providing operation of the system as a whole and delivery of an early warning service.

Space segment includes a set of small remote sensing satellites TwinSat-RS and the micro/nano satellites for electromagnetic and plasma measurements TwinSat-EP operating on the Sun-synchronous orbits with altitude 700 - 800 km. Details of the space constellation structure, a set of instruments and their characteristics will be defined on the results of TwinSat-1 mission.

Aerial segment is constructed on a basis of aviation platform equipped with specialized payload for monitoring of the disturbances excited in the atmosphere over seismically active areas on the eve of impending earthquake, which include the atmosphere chemical composition and aerosol distribution, DC electric field and current, ULF/ELF/VLF/LF and VHF/UHF electromagnetic radiation and atmospheric emissions. The best solution is to use the stratospheric aircraft M55 GEOPHYSICA. The aircraft of this type was widely used during last decade within numerous European scientific programs for atmospheric research. Its advantage is an altitude of flight up to 21 km, which is unavailable to any other piloted aircraft. Use of conventional (tropospheric) aircraft is considered as a possible alternative.

Ground segment consists of a network of geophysical stations located in areas of high seismic and volcano activities to provide continuous measurements of geomagnetic field and seismic oscillations, telluric currents, chemical composition of soil, waters and atmospheric gas, aerosol characteristics, emission of radon and other radioactive substances, atmospheric DC electric field and currents, ULF-LF and VHF/UHF electromagnetic radiation, etc. Details of the ground segment structure and the requirements to a set of instruments will be defined on the results of TwinSat-1 mission.

Main tracks of commercialization. The final target of the TwinSat project is the development and deployment of the System for Detection and Monitoring of Earthquake Precursors. This system, which will be designed at the end of Stage 1, will most likely include a satellite constellation of about 15 spacecraft, the airborne laboratories, the network of geophysical stations in seismic areas and the complete ground infrastructure providing operation of the system as a whole and delivery of an early warning service.

The main products of the System at the final stage of the deployment are as follows:

● The short-term precursor signal information service delivered to national/regional organizations and authorities responsible for earthquake forecasting and announcement of warning (alarm) signals;

● A data centre where space-based, airborne and ground segment data is made available to scientific, ecological, security and other organizations and private subscribers in various countries.

As a by-product the following information will also be available:

● Regular data on solar and geomagnetic activity and the forecast of health effecting geomagnetic storms;

● Monitoring data on the conditions within the ionosphere state and associated information that relates to radio wave propagation;

● Data on radioactive and chemical pollutants.

Among customers of the early warning data are the governmental and regional authorities responsible for security in emergency situations, insurance companies, owners of main pipe lines and electric power generation and transmission systems, railway companies, ministries of defense, etc. Taking into account the System data utility for prediction of tsunami and early detection of tropical cyclones (typhoons) the TwinSat data are expected to be requested by shipping companies, seaport administrations and authorities of the coastal cities.

Recent aviation transport collapse in Europe caused by the volcano eruption in Iceland indicates that an improvement of the short-term forecast and early detection of volcanic eruption by using the TwinSat data will be required to the authorities responsible for air traffic and safety of flights.

The commerce model for the proposed early warning system not yet finally defined but is likely to be based on service contracts between customers and systems owner to provide the information services indicated above.

Close analogues of the TwinSat solution and their market peculiarities. Until now there was only one dedicated space mission on the search for electromagnetic and plasma disturbances initiated in outer space by earthquake preparation processes. It was French DEMETER mission terminated in December 2010 after successful completing its research program. No any plans for further development of this program were announced. Preparation of several other earthquake related research projects was declared in different countries including UNAMSAT-3 (Mexico), Quakesat (Stanford University nanosatellite program, USA), Esperia (Italy), OMIR (Kazakhstan) and CSES (China). We argue that these projects do not comprise payloads that are sufficient for a thorough study of the precursor signals. CSES (Chinese Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite) is our greatest competitor in that it is a dedicated space mission to be realized in near future, though the date of launch still is not defined. After successful completing this mission China intends to start R&D works on the creation of a satellite constellation as a part of practical earthquake forecasting system in China. Comparison between the CSES and TwinSat-1 projects reveals the following advantages of the TwinSat-1:

● Using a twin satellite configuration in orbit allows to define a spatial structure and the dynamic

characteristics of seismic related phenomena in the ionosphere and enhances a reliability of onboard measurements;

● There is a wider set of wave and plasma parameters to be measured on board TwinSat;

● A weight of the TwinSat satellites is substantially smaller and therefore the cost of launch is much lower;

● TwinSat is a more comprehensive project in that it includes the deployment of a network of stations for accompanying ground-based observations of precursory signals in the zones of high seismic and volcanic activity. This significantly enhances the value of satellite measurement and the efficiency of the project as whole. The envisaged incorporation of the aerial platforms at the stage of full deployment of the early warning system makes the System much more effective.

Advantage of the TwinSat program is defined by the multi-discipline approach to the search for earthquake precursors and the construction of combined ground-based, airborne and space system for detection and monitoring of earthquake precursors.

Some market parameters and geography of the Project. Annual financial losses caused by earthquakes over the world are estimated in 150-250 billion US dollars. Strong earthquakes lead to hundreds of thousand victims every year. Most dangerous are the events with magnitude M>6. The distribution of devastating earthquakes over the globe covers huge areas in all continents. Such countries as Japan, China, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Russia, USA, the Balkan countries, Mexico and several nations of South America are in the risk zones. The governments of these countries are expected to be potential users of the warning data and subscribers of the information products provided by the TwinSat system. Among customers of the prognosis and warning data are the governmental and regional authorities responsible for security in emergency situations, insurance companies, owners of main pipe lines and electric power generation and transmission systems, railway companies, ministries of defense, etc. Taking into account the System data availability for prediction of tsunami the TwinSat data are expected to be requested by shipping companies, seaport administrations and authorities of the coastal cities. Recent aviation transport collapse in Europe caused by the volcano eruption in Iceland indicates that an improvement of the short-term forecast and early detection of volcanic eruption by using the TwinSat data will be required to the authorities responsible for air traffic and safety of flights.

The project origin history. An idea of the TwinSat project has been first sounded in the report by V.M.Chmyrev and V.M.Sorokin “Aerospace monitoring of large scale natural disasters” presented at the meeting of the UK and Russia space scientists occurred between 30 June and 2 July 2010 in London. The meeting was organized by University College London (UCL) and International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC) and was hosted by UCL Department of Space and Climate Physics and UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory. In final Memorandum of Understanding the parties agreed to investigate and seek to pursue collaborative research in areas including the following: “To undertake an instrumentation-based project to the detection of natural disaster precursors through observations of effects in the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere”. During two subsequent meetings occurred in London (7-9 December 2010) and in Moscow (16-17 February 2011) the discussions addressed scientific requirements and objectives, satellite design and payloads, operation and programmatic issues. An appearance of the TwinSat project was developed and joint project team headed by Prof. Alan Smith and Prof. Vitaly Chmyrev was formed. All team members have an established track record in the development and implementation of satellite projects and experiments in the fields of space plasma physics, the influence of human activity on near Earth environment, the effects of natural and technological disasters on the ionosphere, etc. The suggested program is based to a large extent on experimental studies and theoretical modeling performed by the project team members. Officially the Project was presented in Royal Aeronautical Society at Yuri Gagarin’s Legacy Space Conference (London, 16th March 2011) in the report by Vitaly Chmyrev and Alan Smith “Detection and Monitoring of Earthquake Precursors: TwinSat, a Russia-UK Satellite Project”.

Dynamics of the Project development. An initial stage of the project formation is described above. Subsequent steps were made towards further development of the Project structure and the preparation of work plan for its implementation. The main phases of the TwinSat Project development include:

Stage 1:

● Issue of Preliminary Design Review and of Critical Design Review (Years 2011-2012);

● Manufacture, assembling and testing of the micro satellite, nano satellite and the useful payloads (Years 2012-2013);

● Deployment of the mission control, telemetry and data processing centers (Years 2012-2013);

● Deployment of the network of geophysical stations in seismic and volcanic zones (Years 2012-2014);

● Piggy-back launch and the flight testing of the micro and nano satellites and their joint operation with the ground geophysical stations (Year 2014);

● Operation of twin satellite system and the ground stations network, experimental data processing, analysis and theoretical modeling (Years 2014-2016);

● The conceptual design and feasibility determination of a follow-on satellite constellation for reliable earthquake prediction taking into consideration the danger of false alarms and ambiguity (Year 2016);

Stage 2:

● Development and deployment of a practical System for Detection and Monitoring of Earthquake Precursors consisted of the satellite constellation, aerial laboratories and ground networks (Years 2016-2017);

● Operation of the System and provision of services (beginning from Year 2018).

Page last modified on 21 sep 11 13:22