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Sun's Magnetic Field To Flip In Complete Reversal, Could Affect GPS Signals

Potential problems for multirotor GPS users

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If you fly your rig with GPS, you may want to take a few precautions!

Reported recently according to NASA-supported observations, the complete reversal of the sun's magnetic field is expected to flip and change polarity in the coming months.

"It looks like we're no more than three to four months away from a complete field reversal," Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist and director of Stanford University's Wilcox Solar Observatory, said in a statement released by the agency. "This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system."

What does this mean for multirotor use?

Probably nothing but potentially some GPS problems. If you are a user that flies with GPS a lot, you may want to be a little cautious.This year during the peak cycle of sun activity, the magnetic field swap will be accompanied by increased levels of turbulence and sun spots. Sun spots have been known to cause issues with GPS reception and that is what would be bad for anyone relying on GPS to hold their rig in the air!

What can I do to help prevent a problem?

One thing that noted multirotor experts/dealers Kopterworx recommends is to check out the estimated planetary K index by going to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center's website. You can find the constantly updated chart at this link: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/rt_plots/kp_3d.html

Just the other day, Kopterworx warned users of a potentially bad day of sun activity when the K index reached 5+. Unfortunately, several people reported helicopter crashes on the Facebook post saying they saw the warning just a little too late!

There is no way to predict how much the solar magnetic field flip will cause issues with our multirotor equipment but I feel that being prepared is never a bad thing. The quick fix is to simply fly your rig in manual with auto level turned on. My Hoverfly Pro boards fly great in this mode and if I see some high K numbers on the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center's website, manual is the way I'll be flying to avoid any potential problems!

I found this video which explains the sun's magnetic field flip, if you have a moment please check it out!

ScienceCasts: The Sun's Magnetic Field is About to Flip (4 min 4 sec)

Last edited by Sleepyc; Aug 09, 2013 at 10:22 AM..

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Old Aug 09, 2013, 11:43 AM
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Ugh. I have an 800 acre mapping job this weekend with an apm controlled fixed wing. Im taking my chances because its this weekend or not at all. Scary.
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Old Aug 10, 2013, 08:00 AM
Hey Guys, Watch This.......
mike2663's Avatar
USA, TX, El Paso
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This happens approximately every 11 years. Guess we will survive this one as well.

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...aug_fieldflip/

Mike
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Old Aug 10, 2013, 09:06 AM
Just got sucked into it all!!
United States, MO, St. Peters
Joined Jan 2013
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WE will survive but 11 years ago we weren't flying multirotors with on board computers and GPS pucks. So for the next few months it might be prudent to check the link before you fly. Might save you a crash or a fly away.

I use an app called 3D Sun with alerts enabled. I get an alert if there is a solar flare that could cause geomagnetic interference. There have been a number of alerts this past year that have caused air-traffic routes to be changed because of navigational interference that would likely happen.

Needless to say this would be a good link to bookmark on your mobile device, whatever that device maybe.
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Old Aug 10, 2013, 09:31 AM
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mike2663's Avatar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quad Head View Post
WE will survive but 11 years ago we weren't flying multirotors with on board computers and GPS pucks. So for the next few months it might be prudent to check the link before you fly. Might save you a crash or a fly away.

I use an app called 3D Sun with alerts enabled. I get an alert if there is a solar flare that could cause geomagnetic interference. There have been a number of alerts this past year that have caused air-traffic routes to be changed because of navigational interference that would likely happen.

Needless to say this would be a good link to bookmark on your mobile device, whatever that device maybe.
Not trying to start a argument here but GPS equipped "everything" has been around for some time. This is not new technology. Fly aways and crashes occur on a daily basis. This is nothing new but a great reason to blame crashing on other than dumb thumbs..

Mike.
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Old Aug 11, 2013, 03:34 PM
ehx
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quad Head View Post
WE will survive but 11 years ago we weren't flying multirotors with on board computers and GPS pucks.
Yeah multirotors were rare back then. I was flying UAV helicopters with on board computers and GPS pucks ... and 11 years before that I was flying manned aircraft - both fixed and rotory wing - with on board computers and GPS pucks. Been through two solar peaks already and gosh darn I never crashed and burnt .

There's just something about solar activity that grabs peoples imagination. Solar flares are going to mess up or wipe out GPS reception and make your UAV crash. This is just silly. Even if GPS was compromised any half-way competent pilot will just switch to a less automated flight mode.

Can solar activity mess with the GPS signal? Sure, but it's extremely rare for things to get so bad that a UAV won't be able to hold position (GPS-based) to within ~10 meters. How rare? It happens on the order of 4 or 5 times each ~11 year solar cycle for perhaps a period of a couple hours. What are the odds that you will be flying then?

Is there a way to know when a geomagnetic storm is so severe that you shouldn't rely on GPS? As is mentioned above the Planetary K index is probably your best general indicator. The problem with the above info is that they are WAY OFF with what they mention as a potential problem level. A Kp of 5 is nothing. For the geomagnetic mid-latitudes you should only be concerned when the Kp hits the highest level - a 9. If you are near the geomagnetic poles or equator perhaps a value of 7 or 8 should get your attention. This is only a general indicator and a Kp of 9 might not cause any problems at all. Or problems in one area, but nothing only a couple hundred km distance.

There's a lot of bad science reporting on this topic. Again because it grabs peoples imagination. You even get supposed "experts" like the guys from Cornell University who in 2006 during a severe geomagnetic storm claimed that their GPS lost lock for ~10 minutes. What they didn't mention is their home made GPS receiver's tracking ability was far inferior to even the cheap GPS chipsets of the time. Their GPS quit for ten minutes and what gets reported by other "experts" is that they wouldn't want to have been using GPS to help land a commercial aircraft at the time because GPS wasn't available. Well the signal was weaker than normal, but still quite useable. There were thousands of GPS base stations running during that time and none failed that I know of. I did a random check of 50 back then. No noticeable reduction in accuracy either. It would take an event much stronger than that 2006 event to knock out GPS service.

Of course this myth will continue because some people like the idea of blaming something else besides their own mistake(s) for a crash or flyaway. Maybe their GPS did loose lock, but was it a solar flare or the transmitter(s) on board their craft jamming the GPS? The latter is far, far more likely. So are numerous other issues like compass problems that those without knowledge of how a simple UAV works will blame on a GPS malfunction.

It doesn't hurt to check out the Kp index. Do this for a while and you'll see how rare values in the 9 range are. You'll also see that if values of 5 caused problems GPS use wouldn't be as widespread as it is.
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Old Aug 11, 2013, 06:47 PM
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USA, TX, El Paso
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ehx View Post
Yeah multirotors were rare back then, I was flying UAV helicopters with on board computers and GPS pucks ... and 11 years before that I was flying manned aircraft - both fixed and rotory wing - with on board computers and GPS pucks. Been though two solar peaks already and gosh darn I never crashed and burnt .

There's just something about solar activity that grabs peoples imagination. Solar flares are going to mess up or wipe out GPS reception and make your UAV crash. This is just silly. Even if GPS was compromised any half-way competent pilot will just switch to a less automated flight mode.

Can solar activity mess with the GPS signal? Sure, but it's extremely rare for things to get so bad that a UAV won't be able to hold position (GPS-based) to within ~10 meters. How rare? It happens on the order of 4 or 5 times each ~11 year solar cycle for perhaps a period of a couple hours. What are the odds that you will be flying then?

Is there a way to know when a geomagnetic storm is so severe that you shouldn't rely on GPS? As is mentioned above the Planetary K index is probably your best general indicator. The problem with the above info is that they are WAY OFF with what they mention as a potential problem level. A Kp of 5 is nothing. For the geomagnetic mid-latitudes you should only be concerned when the Kp hits the highest level - a 9. If you are near the geomagnetic poles or equator perhaps a value of 7 or 8 should get your attention. This is only a general indicator and a Kp of 9 might not cause any problems at all. Or problems in one area, but nothing only a couple hundred km distance.

There's a lot of bad science reporting on this topic. Again because it grabs peoples imagination. You even get supposed "experts" like the guys from Cornell University who in 2006 during a severe geomagnetic storm claimed that their GPS lost lock for ~10 minutes. What they didn't mention is their home made GPS receiver's tracking ability was far inferior to even the cheap GPS chipsets of the time. Their GPS quit for ten minutes and what gets reported by other "experts" is that they wouldn't want to have been using GPS to help land a commercial aircraft at the time because GPS wasn't available. Well the signal was weaker than normal, but still quite useable. There were thousands of GPS base stations running during that time and none failed that I know of. I did a random check of 50 back then. No noticeable reduction in accuracy either. It would take an event much stronger than that 2006 event to knock out GPS service.

Of course this myth will continue because some people like the idea of blaming something else besides their own mistake(s) for a crash or flyaway. Maybe their GPS did loose lock, but was it a solar flare or the transmitter(s) on board their craft jamming the GPS? The later is far, far more likely. So are numerous other issues like compass problems that those without knowledge of how a simple UAV works will blame on a GPS malfunction.

It doesn't hurt to check out the Kp index. Do this for a while and you'll see how rare values in the 9 range are. You'll also see that if values of 5 caused problems GPS use wouldn't be as widespread as it is.
Great post.
This whole thing reminds me of Y2K or the Chicken Little fable take your pick.



Mike
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 10:22 AM
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I think they are just saying be cautious. No one knows exactly what the effects will be.

Good information in my book and an interesting read to boot!

BTW that CME in the first picture is awesome. Those things are HUGE and scary!
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 12:01 PM
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Just for the record, I checked the site this past weekend, and the solar flares were high. I could not get a GPS lock on Saturday with my Garmin Edge 500 bike computer. Over a 2 hour ride, I could not get a lock. On Sunday the solar activity was down, and my GPS lock happened in 2 seconds.
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Old Aug 12, 2013, 09:28 PM
ehx
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Originally Posted by Sleepyc View Post
Just for the record, I checked the site this past weekend, and the solar flares were high. I could not get a GPS lock on Saturday with my Garmin Edge 500 bike computer. Over a 2 hour ride, I could not get a lock. On Sunday the solar activity was down, and my GPS lock happened in 2 seconds.
The Kp was 3 or lower all weekend.

Why couldn't you get a GPS lock? if the receiver had been off for at least a couple hours it may have been trying to get current ephemeris data. This is just highly accurate position info for the satellites - so you can get an accurate position on the earth. This takes about 30 seconds and you need an uninterrupted connection. If this process is interrupted you won't get a position because the ephemeris data is too old. You may have been riding by trees, buildings, etc. and interrupting this process over and over. Now 2 hours sounds excessive, but as Garmin says, "acquire GPS satellites and go". They don't say go first.

You do have to step back a bit though and think about the idea that space weather caused your problem. How many hundreds or perhaps thousands of other GPS receivers were operating near you and would have been subject to the same conditions (from a space weather point of view). If even, say, 20% couldn't get a lock for more than 2 hours it would have made the news. GPS is used for many things. Something important would have been interrupted. It seems far more likely that the issue was just with your receiver and didn't involve space weather at all.

If you really think something like a Kp=5 means trouble just head out to a local ball field or some other open area during one of these events and see how your GPS performs. This will eliminate satellite blockage problems. You can find out for yourself if the idea has any merit which I always encourage people to do.
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Old Aug 13, 2013, 12:40 PM
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Originally Posted by mike2663 View Post
Great post.
This whole thing reminds me of Y2K or the Chicken Little fable take your pick.



Mike
+1

How to know if it's a real problem? Better than checking that website, listen to the news. If commercial aircraft stop flying, then you'll know not to fly yours. Otherwise, it's all anecdotal and suspect.

Saying that solar flares were busy hence my GPS wouldn't lock is like saying I was riding my bike late in the day and the Sun dropped below the horizon. Huh?
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Old Aug 13, 2013, 02:19 PM
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Okay, based on all I can tell, this should really have no effect on GPS or multirotor operations at all.

The K index really has no direct effect on radio propagation, since its a measure of the geomagnetic field, not any specific radio propagation measure. It does have some secondary effects on the F layer which limits the maximum frequency which you can use for bouncing off the ionosphere, which can make a difference for ham radio operators, but should have absolutely no impact on GPS operations. Also, I don't see any predictions for increased solar flares, so there shouldn't be any electrical interference with satellite operations either.

Further, the articles cited don't give any indication that GPS performance should be degraded, just a single anecdote about it. Anyways, if you have the potential to crash just because you lose GPS, you're doing it very, very wrong.

Overall, this whole thing seems like some very amateur research and not actually asking any expert sources, of which there are many.

Heck, if anything, this should give BETTER GPS locks, since there will be very little cosmic ray flux.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Buzz Bomb View Post
I think they are just saying be cautious. No one knows exactly what the effects will be.
This really isn't true either. We've been studying the sun and radio propagation for over 150 years now, and actually have an extremely good grasp of how various solar activity events will impact us here on earth. The only real thing that does a lot of harm is large solar flares and solar storms, usually X class flares, and even those have a very minimal impact on normal GPS operations, they mainly impact HF operations for ham radio. Anyways, we have a bit of warning on those flares because we can see them before the actual particle storm associated with them hits us.
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Old Aug 13, 2013, 10:38 PM
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Old Aug 14, 2013, 12:54 AM
Just got sucked into it all!!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shunyata View Post
+1

How to know if it's a real problem? Better than checking that website, listen to the news. If commercial aircraft stop flying, then you'll know not to fly yours. Otherwise, it's all anecdotal and suspect.

Saying that solar flares were busy hence my GPS wouldn't lock is like saying I was riding my bike late in the day and the Sun dropped below the horizon. Huh?
Yeah and kind of like saying I drank a diet soda and got a head ache. Huh?

http://www.wnho.net/the_ecologist_aspartame_report.htm

What we don't know won't hurt us right? And no i'm not wearing a tinfoil hat.

Most of the GPS and FC components we fly with (if we fly with them) are made with the cheapest possible components that can be found on earth from China. Their general rule of thumb in design is if most of them work the others will get thrown away before they get returned. There's so many posts about getting junk that I frankly don't trust their products, but we continually say "cheaper". I sold may thousands of JM38510 and 883B parts to military suppliers with DX-A1 priority ratings in my day and they were virtually bullet proof. It's why our fighter jets and missiles rarely failed and also cost so much. It's a different world now, minimal testing and commercial temp ranges.

Comparatively speaking I would however trust the GPS and FC in a Boeing or Airbus before I'd trust the FC and GPS of my Naza. I (going out on a limb here) would bet that they have higher grade components and failsafe testing and redundancy build into those systems. Yes I'm pretty sure they do.

Isn't there a distinct reason we're told, and tell people, not to fly over crowds and congested areas. So whether or not they are or aren't more susceptible to geomagnetic storms (interference) will be another raging debate over sensationalistic reporting vs fact.

From NASA Goddard Heliophysics:

"Modern society depends on a variety of technologies susceptible to the extremes of space weather. Strong electrical currents driven along the Earth’s surface during auroral events disrupt electric power grids and contribute to the corrosion of oil and gas pipelines. Changes in the ionosphere during geomagnetic storms interfere with high-frequency radio communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation. During polar cap absorption events caused by solar protons, radio communications can be compromised for commercial airliners on transpolar crossing routes. Exposure of spacecraft to energetic particles during solar energetic particle events and radiation belt enhancements cause temporary operational anomalies, damage critical electronics, degrade solar arrays, and blind optical systems such as imagers and star trackers."

I'm sure they're hiding something though or stretching the truth
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Old Aug 14, 2013, 02:49 AM
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Good points.

This will really be the first time we can see what the effect "might" be on "us". Hopefully it's none.

I'm sure someone will try to shoot you down though. Have fun!
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