Intense Solar Storm Not a Problem for ISS Astronauts, Starliner CFT Still Scheduled for May 17

Intense Solar Storm Not a Problem for ISS Astronauts, Starliner CFT Still Scheduled for May 17

Earth is on the receiving end of intense solar activity this weekend — a burst of “space weather.”  NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center issues warnings on a five-point scale because satellites and the terrestrial electric grid are vulnerable to outages from the high radiation levels. G5 is the highest and NOAA issued a G5 alert this evening. The radiation can also pose a danger to astronauts on the International Space Station, but NASA is not concerned for now. Separately, NASA confirmed that the rescheduled launch of the Starliner Crew Flight Test is still on track for May 17, but the two crew members are returning to Houston instead of remaining at Kennedy Space Center.

NOAA reported at 8:38 pm ET that G5 space weather conditions have been observed for the first time since 2003. The radiation is the result of strong Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) from a cluster of sunspots that is “17 times the diameter of Earth.”

The storm is expected to persist at varying intensity levels through the weekend.

The Sun’s magnetic fields switch places every 11 years, creating sunspots. The most sunspots occur in the middle of that cycle, the solar maximum. The current cycle began in 2019, so 2024-2025 is the time of highest activity. The most visible evidence on Earth usually are breathtaking auroras that can be seen much further from the poles than usual, but in some cases the electric grid and satellites can experience outages because of the effect on electronics.


Increased solar activity also changes the density of the upper atmosphere and increases drag on satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). Satellites in LEO have to boost their orbits several times a year in any case, but must do so much more often during periods of high solar activity. NOAA says instead of about four times a year, it’s required every 2-3 weeks.

The International Space Station also is in LEO. The increased solar activity not only affects its orbit, but seven people live there. Astronauts are routinely monitored for radiation exposure and NASA said in a statement this evening that if necessary they can shelter in areas where the 420 Metric Ton facility has higher amounts of shielding because of more station mass. That’s not necessary for now, however.

“NASA completed a thorough analysis of recent space weather activity and determined it posed no risk to the crew aboard the International Space Station and no additional precautionary measures are needed.” — NASA statement

Four Americans and three Russians are currently aboard the ISS.

Current ISS crew, L-R: ISS Expedition 71, L-R: Alexander Grebenkin (Roscosmos), Tracy Dyson (NASA), Michael Barratt (NASA), Nikolai Chub (Roscosmos), Matthew Dominick (NASA), Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos), Jeanette Epps (NASA). Credit: NASA

Separately, NASA said tonight that the two NASA astronauts who will fly the Starliner Crew Flight Test, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, are returning to Houston instead of remaining at Kennedy Space Center until their rocket is fixed. NASA originally said they would stay in quarantine at KSC. No explanation was provided for the change in plans, but they will remain quarantined. NASA also did not specify when they will return to KSC.

Wilmore and Williams were about two hours from launch on May 6 when a scrub was called because United Launch Alliance (ULA) engineers detected a problem with one of the valves in the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas V rocket. They concluded the valve must be replaced, which meant rolling the rocket back to ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility. That delayed the launch for a week-and-a-half with May 17 set as the “no earlier than” launch date. NASA restated tonight that the launch is targeted for May 17.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.