Thermospheric density variability using radars

Normally, radars cannot observe the neutral gas, which is by far the largest component of the atmosphere. However, thermospheric density in the upper-atmosphere is highly variable due to geomagnetic storms and solar heating. We have developed theory to observe this phenomenon with our SuperDARN radar at SANAE in Antarctica. 50% of all satellites fly below 1000 km altitude where atmospheric drag is important and limits the operational lifetime.
We will use our new capability to:
(1) Observe the atmosphere’s response to geomagnetic storms,
(2) Observe the atmosphere’s recovery to geomagnetic storms, and
(3) Estimate the impact on the lifetime of low earth orbiting satellites and space debris.