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QinetiQ teams up with SolarMetrics to investigate the impact of Cosmic Radiation

With the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer Record attempt fast approaching, Virgin Atlantic’s partner to run the scientific experimentation for the challenge, SolarMetrics Ltd, announces that QinetiQ is providing its support to explore ‘Space Weather’. The SolarMetrics project is being seen as a unique opportunity to record Cosmic Radiation levels at high altitude whilst allowing the investigation of ‘Space Weather’ in real-time. The Global Flyer challenge, expected to launch on or shortly after the 25th February, will enable SolarMetrics to make some valuable and unique measurements.

Virgin Atlantic chose SolarMetrics as its official partner because it is the only company in the world with the capability to provide real-time information on Cosmic Radiation to airlines. This enables airlines to deal more effectively with the impact of Cosmic Radiation exposure on aircraft (something they are now required to do by law in the EU), air travellers and air traffic systems. Traditional methods used by individual airlines are costly and time consuming, but SolarMetrics’ unique technology means that monitoring can be outsourced to an automated service that provides unprecedented accuracy.

Cosmic Radiation is probably one of the lesser known sources of radiation to the general public. Of the average annual background radiation received by any person, about 10% comes from Cosmic Radiation. On Earth the effects of low-level radiation are minimised by the planet’s magnetic field, deflecting cosmic ray particles, and by Earth’s atmosphere absorbing most of what is left. However, the protection becomes weaker at high altitudes. Flying at over 45,000 feet for such a long period of time, no pilot before has ever been subjected to such levels of Cosmic Radiation in one flight.

Cosmic Radiation is also one small part of the bigger picture known as Space Weather. This is the term used to discuss how our Sun and its extremely dynamic activity can influence the space environment around the Earth and affect the technologies we rely on in space and on the ground. The necessity for monitoring Space Weather and radiation levels has been illustrated by a recent solar event that occurred at 0700 GMT on 20 January 2005. This was the most energetic particle event since October 1989 and significantly raised radiation levels, particularly near the poles and at high altitudes. As GlobalFlyer will be at altitudes above normal aircraft routes, Solarmetrics and QinetiQ will be keeping a careful eye on the Sun and their monitors. Only by monitoring all the solar and space activity in real-time can the complete picture be understood and an assessment made of the actual radiation levels.

SolarMetrics’ Bryn Jones said: “The majority of Steve Fossett’s route is at low equatorial latitudes, where the Earth’s magnetic field offers the highest protection from cosmic radiation and any solar activity; therefore, any increases in the radiation are only likely to be a small additional risk. And while radiation exposure and variations caused by solar activity must be monitored for daily airline operations, its importance is minor when considered against the challenge and risks of completing this record-breaking round the world flight.”

Providing further support to the project, QinetiQ will be fitting two radiation monitors aboard the accompanying ‘chase’ aircraft. These will measure the radiation levels experienced by crew members, including Sir Richard Branson, while they follow Steve Fossett and the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer on its world record attempt. The instruments are the Cosmic Radiation Environment and Activation Monitor (CREAM) that has been tried and tested on a variety of aircraft and spaceflights, and a new compact version called QDOS, being flown for the first time. SolarMetrics will now include these instruments with its suite of other hi-tech Cosmic Radiation monitors that are being prepared for flight onboard the chase aircraft and the Global Flyer aircraft itself.

Because SolarMetrics is not able to download the instrument data in real-time, it will instead be calculating the dose during the flight using its real-time S.M.A.R.T. Cosmic Radiation model that will be updated constantly as if flying a 'virtual instrument'. Simultaneously, these calculations will be supported by QinetiQ using Atmospheric Radiation Model (QARM) software. Both calculations provide a complete model of the atmospheric radiation environment and their response to changing solar and geomagnetic conditions. By running calculations in parallel, it will allow QinetiQ to assess the performance of QARM and also compare it against data collected by the airborne instruments.

Observers can follow the progress in real-time together with the latest space weather conditions at SolarMetrics’ 'Mission Control Centre', viewable at http://www.solarmetrics.com




Editors Notes

For further information about the Global Flyer attempt, please visit: http://www.globalflyer.com


For further information about the science project, please contact:

SolarMetrics Limited
Lower Ground Floor
20 Nugent Road
Surrey Research Park
Guildford
Surrey
GU2 7AF
UK
tel: +44 (0)1483 684803
www.solarmetrics.com

Global Flyer Project Participants:
Captain Bryn Jones bryn.jones@solarmetrics.com
Managing Director
mobile: +44 (0)794 127 4083

Dr Roger Iles roger.iles@solarmetrics.com
Science Director
Mobile: +41 (0)797 879 327

For further press information, please contact:

Glen Goldsmith/Katie King
2thefore
Tel: 01483 811234 / 0208 360 2442
Mobile: 07812 766 338 / 07974 161179
Email: glen@2thefore.biz / katie@2thefore.biz

QinetiQ

Stephen Cooke
QinetiQ Press Office
Tel: 01252 394573
Email: scooke@qinetiq.com


A Suite of Hi-Tech In-Flight Monitors

The Cosmic Radiation Environment and Activation Monitor (CREAM) provided by QinetiQ measures the electrical charges deposited by the interaction of cosmic rays with silicon detectors. Since 1989 CREAM has flown ten missions on board the Space Shuttle, six months on-board the Russian space station MIR, and four years on-board the supersonic passenger jet Concorde. In addition, CREAM has also flown on several other commercial passenger jets to destinations around the world. Besides monitoring the background levels of cosmic radiation that vary slowly over the eleven-year solar cycle, the occasional large increases from particles emitted by the sun can be detected. The CREAM monitor was the first to detect such increases at aircraft altitudes during a series of large solar events in 1989. The data gathered by CREAM has not only been invaluable in the research into atmospheric radiation effects upon humans, but also the disruptive effects upon computer micro-processors and memory used in avionics. QinetiQ is currently working on a compact aircraft monitor, QDOS, which is based on the experience gained with CREAM. This can be flown permanently on-board commercial passenger aircraft and can employ a display to allow real-time warnings and information to be available to aircrew.

Due to strict weight restrictions, SolarMetrics will be flying only a single light-weight EPDN-2 radiation monitor on the Global Flyer aircraft itself. This instrument, manufactured by Thermo Electron Corporation, although not designed to be used in an aircraft to measure cosmic rays, has been undergoing cross-calibration* “flight” trials since July 2004 in preparation for this Global Flyer flight. Additional EPDN-2s will also fly onboard the chase aircraft along with Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counters made in the US by Far West Technology Inc. The TEPCs accurately measure radiation environments where the radiation spectrum and sources are constantly changing, i.e., cosmic radiation inside an aircraft during a flight. The TEPCs design was developed under contract to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and has been in use for more than ten years. It has been used on the Mir space station, the Discovery space shuttle, other NASA spacecraft, and many commercial airplanes. Finally, SolarMetrics has begun collaborative research with the University of Surrey Physics department to build smaller, lighter detectors that can measure both the radiation exposures for humans and for electronic components.
(*cross-calibration – a process involving flying the EPDN-2 alongside a detector that is already known to be very good at measuring the cosmic ray field, and comparing the readings at the end of the flight)



SolarMetrics Limited

Bryn Jones, Managing Director of Solarmetrics, spent time as an RAF Tornado and fast jet pilot and is currently working as a commercial pilot. He also advises the Government and UK airlines on Cosmic Radiation. “This is a unique opportunity to find out more about Space Weather and how we can deal with its impacts in real-time,” he said. “Over the last 20 months we have been developing our own technology which allows us to calculate radiation levels by comparing space weather measurements with actual aircraft positions – giving us results of great precision.

“Cosmic radiation accounts for only 10% of the natural radiation that is around us every day – so it’s a relatively small amount - but we are increasing our knowledge of this area to understand the longer term impact on the aviation industry. As demand for air travel grows over the coming years, airlines will be flying further for longer in aeroplanes like the Airbus A380, so the Global Flyer project will provide us with a unique opportunity to study the radiation that future routes will be exposed to.”

Currently, nowhere in the world is there a central database for the long-term collection of Cosmic Radiation exposure doses for all air travellers. Solarmetrics’ aim is to create such a database and make it available to the medical community for research purposes.

It is our understanding of these effects, along with many other factors, that allows SolarMetrics to deal with the issue of Cosmic Radiation effectively.


About SolarMetrics Limited

SolarMetrics provides consulting, hardware and systems, and outsourcing to Airlines and Corporations enabling them to deal effectively with the impacts of Cosmic Radiation and Space Weather on air travellers, aircraft and air traffic systems.

- SolarMetrics collects and maintains details of in-flight Cosmic Radiation exposure and Space Weather events for commercial, corporate and cargo flights worldwide.

- SolarMetrics provides this information for airlines to demonstrate legislation compliance and to integrate with crew rostering and route planning.

- Corporations may also use this information to help evaluate the health risks to corporate travellers thus ensuring a high standard `Duty of Care´ to their employees.

- An extensive database maintained by SolarMetrics will also provide a valuable source of information for future medical research.

About QinetiQ

- QinetiQ (pronounced ki’ ne tik as in ‘kinetic energy’) is Europe’s largest science and technology solutions company with unrivalled expertise in the defence and security sectors. Founded In July 2001 from the majority of DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency) the laboratories of the UK MOD, QinetiQ employs nearly 10,000 people, including many of the UK's leading scientists and internationally acclaimed experts. Today QinetiQ operates in markets as diverse as defence, security, automotive, information technology, aerospace, health, rail, telecommunications, electronics, space, marine, energy and oil & gas.

- Facilities include indoor and outdoor ranges, wind tunnels and noise test facilities, sleep laboratories, motion sickness and vibration laboratories, marine testing facilities, automotive test tracks and climatic testing laboratories. QinetiQ heritage covers the pioneering research and development of many household technologies including liquid crystal displays (LCDs), carbon fibre, the technology for flat panel speakers, infra-red sensors and microwave radar, a life saving foetal heart monitoring system, plus other significant advancements in the areas of healthcare, passenger security and transport.

- Recently launched security products have included: a man portable metal detection system; X-net – a vehicle arrest device; Tarsier – a radar system that identifies debris on an airport runway; BoarderWatch – which sees into vehicles to identify possible clandestines and MillimetreWave Portal – a people screening system that can identify concealed weapons.

- In late February 2003, MOD confirmed The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s leading private equity firms, as the strategic partner to invest in QinetiQ as a stepping stone to eventual flotation. Carlyle holds 31% with the MOD retaining a 56% stake and the balance with staff.

- Building on its defence and security expertise, QinetiQ is developing an impressive overseas customer base. As part of this process it has established a US based sales operation in Arlington to forge closer links with this potentially massive market. In September 2004 it also acquired the businesses of Foster-Millar Inc for £91.8m ($163m) and Westar Aerospace & Defense Group for £72.2m ($130m). Both will become wholly-owned subsidiaries of QinetiQ North America but will remain autonomous, retaining their names, core management teams, employees and US facilities.

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