Articles | Volume 24, issue 4
Special issue:
Research article
15 Dec 2017
Research article |  | 15 Dec 2017

Satellite drag effects due to uplifted oxygen neutrals during super magnetic storms

Gurbax S. Lakhina and Bruce T. Tsurutani

Abstract. During intense magnetic storms, prompt penetration electric fields (PPEFs) through E  ×  B forces near the magnetic equator uplift the dayside ionosphere. This effect has been called the dayside super-fountain effect. Ion-neutral drag forces between the upward moving O+ (oxygen ions) and oxygen neutrals will elevate the oxygen atoms to higher altitudes. This paper gives a linear calculation indicating how serious the effect may be during an 1859-type (Carrington) superstorm. It is concluded that the oxygen neutral densities produced at low-Earth-orbiting (LEO) satellite altitudes may be sufficiently high to present severe satellite drag. It is estimated that with a prompt penetrating electric field of ∼ 20 mV m−1 turned on for 20 min, the O atoms and O+ ions are uplifted to 850 km where they produce about 40-times-greater satellite drag per unit mass than normal. Stronger electric fields will presumably lead to greater uplifted mass.

Short summary
A preliminary estimate of the drag force per unit mass on typical low-Earth-orbiting satellites moving through the ionosphere during Carrington-type super magnetic storms is calculated by a simple first-order model which takes into account the ion-neutral drag between the upward-moving oxygen ions and O neutral atoms. It is shown that oxygen ions and atoms can be uplifted to 850 km altitude, where they produce about 40 times more satellite drag per unit mass than normal.