The LOFAR for Space Weather (LOFAR4SW) proposal 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 will engage 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 will design 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. A major avenue of LOFAR has been a preparation of the large scale, high-end research facility in which simultaneous, independent observing modes and signal paths provide continuous access to two research communities: radio astronomy and space weather research.
A strong focus towards modelling for forecasting and prediction purposes must be balanced by a continuing drive towards key unanswered fundamental physical questions. 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 enable a wide range of solar and space weather research topics to be tackled and have unique strengths in several high-impact science areas: trading the initial launch of a 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.
The LOFAR4SW project is very timely. Cutting-edge low frequency radio observing technology has been advanced with LOFAR in recent years to the stage where a significant upgrade of the ILT can be now designed and constructed which will immediately allow it to function as a major state-of-the-art observatory for space weather science. Implementation of the upgrade can take place in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost that would be involved in developing the fully new facility. The overall investment in realizing the LOFAR4SW facility is estimated to be of order 15 M€, as compared to initial investments in LOFAR totalling 150 M€. With a planned start date of 1st December 2017, the LOFAR4SW design effort will also have optimal synergy with the preparations for significant renovations of the LOFAR infrastructure for radio astronomy purposes, starting independently in 2017. The LOFAR4SW design study will, thus, be completed in time for subsequent efficient implementation jointly with the radio astronomy modifications early in the next decade.
The LOFAR4SW project increases the European innovation potential by delivering new data analysis algorithms and tools to the community. It aims to create a timely support base of knowledgeable scientists ready to use the LOFAR4SW facility from its inception. It will also 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.