What would be the impact?
Satellites play a critical role in many areas of modern life, including communication, navigation, weather forecasting, scientific research, and national security, among others. Potential impacts include the following:
- Communication disruptions: Satellites are a key component of global communication systems, including telephone, internet, and television networks. If they were suddenly destroyed, it would severely disrupt these systems, potentially causing widespread outages and disruption to businesses, emergency services, and individuals.
- Navigation issues: Many navigation systems, such as GPS/GNSS, rely on satellites to provide accurate location information. Without these systems, it would be much more difficult for people to navigate and travel, particularly over long distances.
- Weather forecasting: Satellites play a critical role in monitoring weather patterns and providing data that is used for weather forecasting. Without these satellites, our ability to predict and prepare for severe weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and typhoons, would be greatly reduced.
- Scientific research: Satellites are used extensively in scientific research, including monitoring the environment, studying climate change, and tracking the movement of ocean currents. Without these tools, researchers would be limited in their ability to gather data and advance scientific knowledge.
- National security: Satellites are used by many countries for military and intelligence purposes, including surveillance and reconnaissance. The loss of these satellites could have significant national security implications and could impact military operations and intelligence gathering.
Overall, the destruction of all the world’s satellites would have significant and far-reaching consequences, impacting many aspects of modern life. While some systems and services could be adapted to function without satellites, the loss of these critical tools would be a major setback for many areas of human activity.
CASE STUDY: Economic Impact to the UK of a Five-Day Disruption to GNSS
The economic impact to the UK of a five-day disruption to GNSS has been estimated at £5.2b. This is comprised of £1.7b in lost Gross Value Add and £3.5b in lost utility benefits (including damages). Applications in road, maritime, and emergency and justice services account for 88% of all impacts.
Source: Economic impact to the UK of a disruption to GNSS, London Economics, 2017
What is the likelihood of this happening?
There are several events that could potentially cause widespread destruction of satellites, including:
- Space Weather
- Solar Flares: A solar flare is a powerful burst of electromagnetic radiation from the sun that can interfere with the operation of satellites in space. Severe solar flares have the potential to destroy or permanently damage satellites.
- Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs): A coronal mass ejection is a massive burst of charged particles from the sun that can also interfere with satellite operation. CMEs can cause widespread satellite outages, particularly if they are directed towards the Earth.
- Geomagnetic Storms: A geomagnetic storm is a disturbance in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by a solar wind shockwave. Geomagnetic storms can create electrical currents in the Earth’s ionosphere that can interfere with satellite communications and navigation systems.
- Orbital Debris: Orbital debris, also known as space junk, can collide with satellites and cause significant damage or destruction. The increasing amount of space debris in low Earth orbit makes it increasingly likely that satellites will be impacted.
- Orbital Decay: Over time, satellites naturally lose altitude due to friction with the Earth’s atmosphere. Eventually, they will fall to the ground and burn up.
- Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP): An EMP is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic radiation that could be caused by a nuclear explosion, solar flare, or other means. An EMP could damage or destroy electronics on satellites, rendering them inoperable.
- Space warfare: In the event of a military conflict in space, satellites could be targeted and destroyed as part of a strategic effort to deny an adversary the use of space-based assets.
- Man-made threats: Human activity can also pose a threat to satellites. For example malicious hacking could result in the destruction of satellites.
Geomagnetic Storm Example
Man-Made Threats Example
It’s important to note that while these events could cause significant damage to satellites, the likelihood of complete destruction of all satellites is extremely low. The satellite industry has contingency plans and mitigation strategies in place to minimize the impact of these events.