We've got two stories this month on ionospheric research, both with the potential to better understand and possibly improve long-distance radio wave propagation. They're also nearly certain to give new fuel to conspiracy theorists.
HAARP – the High Frequency Active Aurora Research Program – is now scheduled to return to operation next year as part of the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF). The huge facility in Alaska was built by the U.S. Air Force over a decade and a half between the 1990s and 2007, according to the ARRL Letter, then shut down in 2014 due to changing priorities and funding issues. Protests over plans to tear down the $300 million facility resulted in its transfer last year to UAF ownership. HAARP has a 30-acre antenna farm fed by transmitters capable of producing up to 5 gigawatts ERP (Effective Radiated Power) and was used to study the ionosphere and try to create artificial auroras (conspiracy theorists also believe it changed weather and caused earthquakes). Officials are looking into increased amateur radio involvement in HAARP research as it reopens under civilian administration.
The Air Force, meanwhile, is still interested in improving HF propagation, especially during periods of low sunspot activity. The ARRL Letter also reports that the Department of Defense is working with commercial and university researchers to develop cubesats that can bombard the ionosphere with "plasma bombs" of ionized gas in hopes of generating enough ionospheric action to support HF propagation even when the sun is not cooperating.