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What is the Kp-index? Is there a risk for drone pilots flying UAV?

In this video I try to answer the question, “What is the Kp-index” and I’ll discuss what risks, if any, it might pose to operators of UAV.

Some say that a high Kp-index reading is a risk to UAV flying while others say the risks are negligible and therefore it can be safely ignored.

So if you’re a drone pilot and you would like to gain an appreciation of what this measurement means for your planned flights then this video is for you.

What follows is my understanding of the Kp-index so if you notice any errors or omissions feel free to correct me by posting a comment below.

If you’ve flown drones during a high Kp-index reading and noticed even the slightest difference in GPS accuracy then please post a comment too.

Drones use GPS to calculate their position above the Earth. It’s what makes them so easy to fly and it’s the GPS tracking that enables many of the features that make UAV both useful to commercial operators and fun to fly for amateurs.

For example, within the DJI Phantom range it’s GPS programming that powers the Failsafe, Home Lock, and Ground Station features.

That’s all well and good but what are the risks of losing satellite connection?

One of the external forces that can reduce the satellite signal strength and cause a string of mishaps that might lead to the dreaded flyaway is a geomagnetic storm and it’s this aspect of space weather that is measured using the Kp-index.

The Kp-index is a measurement of disturbances within the Earth’s magnetic field. It represents these disturbances on a scale of zero to nine.

A reading of 1 to 4 confirms calm conditions, whereas 5 to 9 denotes a magnetic storm of increasing degrees of intensity.

The readings are displayed in three hour intervals, usually as a graph in green, yellow, and red.

The measurements of disturbances are collected by magnetometers at various locations around the globe and recorded into their respective K-index.

The global Kp-index is a curation of all this data based on the averages from each recording station’s K-index.

The disturbances in the field are caused by solar flares, so increased solar activity poses a risk to any GPS equipment.

When the index is in the green area (0-3 on the scale) there’s a good chance of strong satellite lock. When it goes over 3 and stronger then there is a risk of disruption to satellite connectivity. Anything above 5 indicates a magnetic storm of increasing strength.

So the theory goes that if your drone has locked on to 12 satellites but a solar storm causes disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field you may lose the connection to one or more.

The accuracy of the GPS may be affected too, but again, some say this is too small a risk to worry about.

Judging by the comments on forums it seems many believe it’s not worth any concern. However, latitude of the drone flight and the type of drone itself may be significant.

Some drone pilots report that the closer you get to the North or South pole then the lower the safety threshold on the index.

Continued in the video…

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