The Global Positioning System (GPS) serves as a critical infrastructure for a multitude of services and applications, including but not limited to navigation, timing, and scientific research. Satellites that depend on GPS for their operations are vulnerable to various forms of interference or attacks.
This article reviews the different ways an adversarial satellite could impact the GPS usage of other satellites in orbit:
Frequency Interference: A satellite could transmit signals on the same frequencies used by GPS satellites, effectively drowning out the GPS signals and preventing other satellites from obtaining accurate fixes. This is one of the most straightforward methods of jamming.
Barrage Jamming: In this method, the jamming satellite transmits noise across a wide range of frequencies, affecting multiple channels and potentially interfering with multiple satellite systems, including GPS.
False Signals: A more sophisticated form of interference involves sending out signals that mimic the GPS signals but provide incorrect data. This could mislead other satellites into thinking they are in different locations, potentially causing them to veer off course.
Meaconing: This involves capturing GPS signals and rebroadcasting them with a delay. Because the timing of the GPS signal is essential for determining position, this would result in inaccurate position and time calculations.
Directed Energy Weapons: A satellite could be equipped with directed energy weapons, such as lasers, to physically damage GPS satellites or their solar panels, impacting their ability to function properly.
Kinetic Attacks: Though much less likely due to the risk of generating space debris, a satellite could physically collide with a GPS satellite to disable it.
Data Interception: The satellite could be designed to intercept and modify the data being sent from GPS satellites to ground stations for updates, causing inaccuracies in the transmitted data.
Software Exploits: If a satellite could somehow gain access to the software running on a GPS satellite, it could introduce bugs or exploits that would compromise the GPS satellite's functionality.
Selective Availability: While no longer commonly used, a satellite could reintroduce a feature like the “Selective Availability” used by the U.S. in the past to intentionally degrade the GPS signal for non-military users.
Time Manipulation: By subtly altering the timing signals used by GPS for triangulation, a satellite could introduce errors into position calculations.
Radiation Emission: A satellite could emit radiation that interferes with the sensors or electronics of GPS satellites, although this would likely also affect other satellites and therefore be counterproductive.
Diplomatic and Legal Measures
Geofencing or Regional Limitations: Though not a direct method of interference, a country could enact policy measures that restrict or limit GPS usage within certain orbital or geographical parameters, enforced by a dedicated satellite.
The ways in which a satellite could impact the GPS usage of other satellites are diverse, ranging from signal interference and spoofing to physical and cyber attacks. Each method has its own set of implications, technical challenges, and international legal ramifications. Such activities would not only disrupt the functioning of the targeted GPS satellites but could also have a cascading impact on various systems and applications that rely on accurate GPS data.