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U.S. Satellite Plan Could Knock Out GPS and Radio 152

Posted by samzenpus
from the protect-at-all-cost dept.
Audent writes "Otago University researchers are concerned by U.S. plans to protect satellites from solar storms... "The approach, which is being considered by the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, involves using very low frequency radio waves to flush particles from belts and dump them into the upper atmosphere over either one or several days". The plan could disrupt GPS signals and high frequency radio over the Pacific for up to a week. "The disruptions result from a deluge of dumped charged particles temporarily changing the ionosphere from a "mirror" that bounces high frequency radio waves around the planet to a "sponge" that soaks them up.""
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U.S. Satellite Plan Could Knock Out GPS and Radio

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  • hmmm.... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I wonder if they are going to emply "Sharks with fricking laser-beams" on this one...
  • by krell (896769)
    "flush particles from belts and dump them "

    Isn't the dump supposed to come first?
    • Isn't the dump supposed to come first?


      I'd take the belt off first.
  • But what if (Score:5, Funny)

    by MECC (8478) on Monday August 14, 2006 @11:47AM (#15903653)
    But what if we reversed the polarity of the particle beam, and then redirected the emissions harmlessly into space - like deflating a balloon. We'd just need 30 minutes to recharge the anti-matter particle deflector grid.

    • by Cait Sith (34507)
      Geordie, that just might work. Make it so.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 14, 2006 @11:57AM (#15903745)
      Leela: I didn't want to leave them either Fry but what are we supposed to do?
      Fry: Well, usually on the show someone would come up with a complicated plan then explain it with a simple analogy.
      Leela: Hmm. If we can reroute engine power through the primary weapons and reconfigure them to Melllvar's frequency that should overload his electro-quantum structure.
      Bender: Like putting too much air in a ballon!

      Leela: It's not working. He's drawing straight from our weapons.
      Fry: Like a balloon when ...something bad happens.
    • Why don't they send it the other way into space?
    • You're going to need a positronic phase inverter to make it work.
  • by andrewman327 (635952) on Monday August 14, 2006 @11:49AM (#15903673) Homepage Journal
    Why would the USAF jam its own military signals? A friend who flies Blackhawks says the worst part of training was then they shut down the GPS receiver and made him navigate on the fly, so to speak. It's not like we have any military presence aroundin the Pacific or anything.


    Not surprisingly, this plan does not appear to be in any stage of implementation. From TFA: "The US Air Force and the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have proposed using very low frequency radio waves to flush particles from radiation 'belts' above Earth and dump them into the upper atmosphere over either one or several days."


    My guess is that this is an emergency countermeasure in the event of a nuclear strike. Also from TFA: "If the intense radiation belts resulted from a rogue state detonating a nuclear-tipped missile in the upper atmosphere, using such remediation technology would probably be acceptable to the international community."

    I hate to inform everyone, but the sky is not falling. At least not yet (always keep your towels handy in case it does).

    • Why would the USAF jam its own military signals?
      So they don't see the Goa'uld and Ori fleets.
    • by carn1fex (613593) on Monday August 14, 2006 @12:22PM (#15903944)
      Exactly, I hate it when these sort of things hit the news. The government has all sorts of wacky proposals coming into it all the time. I review technology proposals for a particular agency and you wouldn't believe the wacky stuff that comes down the pipe. But they're just that, proposals and most never see the light of day. When the media says "the government is considering a proposal" it means theres simply a stack of paper on my desk that I've covered in red ink and usually thrown in the shredder and I and one other person are the only people who will ever have read the thing. Anyone and everyone can submit a proposal to a government grant system, and believe me they do. There should be better secrecy regarding proposal submission so as not to impede the free flow of ideas resulting from paranoia that your idea will land on the cover of the Post and make you look like a shmuck, much like this case.
      • Exactly, I hate it when these sort of things hit the news. The government has all sorts of wacky proposals coming into it all the time. I review technology proposals for a particular agency and you wouldn't believe the wacky stuff that comes down the pipe.

        Yeah, I bet! Now I'd appreciate if you could hurry through that garbage and get to my ingenious proposal to defend our northern border from a deadly Canadian Moose Blitz via electrified orphans.

        There should be better secrecy regarding proposal submission
      • There should be better secrecy regarding proposal submission so as not to impede the free flow of ideas resulting from paranoia that your idea will land on the cover of the Post and make you look like a shmuck, much like this case.

        I don't think you thought that the whole way through. Secrecy and democracy do not mix. Anything secret cannot, by it's very definition, be democratic. If the working of the leadership of a country is not transparent to it's population, then the population does not have the infor

    • A friend who flies Blackhawks says the worst part of training was then they shut down the GPS receiver and made him navigate on the fly, so to speak.

      wow what a bunch of big babiesw the military pilots are today.

      He cant navigate without GPS, good god.
      • He can navigate perfectly well without GPS, thus why he passed his tests with flying colors (again with the puns, what's wrong with me today). It is just one more thing to have to think about while controlling several different flight systems at once. Military practical testing is incredibly difficult. My friend and his helo both survived their tour in Iraq so I would hardly call him a baby.
      • wow what a bunch of big babiesw the military pilots are today.

        He cant navigate without GPS, good god.


        That's right. Back in my day we would strap a private to a kite and fly him over the enemy to drop rocks and flaming pinecones. We didn't need no confangled GPS...
        ahhhhhh.... get off my lawn!
      • Now you know why Apache pilots call them Fag-Hawks pilots. ;)

        I'm not sure about Blackhawks, but Apache pilots can not use GPS as their primary navigation device. They are forced to fly by VFR chart and only use GPS for validation.
    • Why would the USAF jam its own military signals?

      To also disrupt ham shortwave. If the darkside wants to pull some serious machinations, they would not want news to leak.

      • As talented as most ham radio operators are, I do not think that the mass media would respect that technology enough to run stories based on it. And what "machinations" would the USAF be pulling without the benefit of GPS to guide them? Localized jamming is not an unheard of concept in military operations and it would stop leaking radio reports.
    • I hate to inform everyone, but the sky is not falling. At least not yet (always keep your towels handy in case it does).

      I always keep mine right on my head...

      **yes it's worth the karma points :p
  • Summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Monday August 14, 2006 @11:51AM (#15903690)
    - This is a proposed system; not one that has been approved or even designed

    - The system would protect hundreds of satellites in low earth orbit from solar storms (or high altitude nuclear detonations)

    - Depending on how the system is designed and operated, neither of which have been done yet, it COULD have deleterious effects on certain other communication systems

    - They say GPS could be affected, but they ignore the fact that GPS is critical to the US itself

    - Certainly the international community should consider implications, and nowhere is it stated or shown that the US is ignoring any obligations, considering the fact that the same possible harmful, but temporary, effects would also be felt by the US
    • It sounds like something that can easily cause more harm than good. Storms disrupt satellite service, but not for long that I've seen. There aren't a whole lot of publicly confirmed "deaths" of satellites by solar storm. There are a few, but I don't think it happens anywhere nearly often enough to warrant this.

      I think it's also lesson not to depend on GPS too much.
      • Well, this is a DARPA proposal. DARPA's charge is to do some sometimes-outlandish research and propose unique solutions to military problems. They attempt to bridge the gap between a basic principle and a high-payoff, revolutionary application. Usually when DARPA is discussing or proposing something, it's far from anywhere near being implemented.

        Also, from TFA:

        It has been suggested that a nuclear airburst at high-altitude would significantly shorten the operational lifetime of Low Earth Orbiting satellites.
  • In other news, CBS has announced the new season of Survivor:
    Survivor: Radio Blackout: Landforms of Silence
    We can't say where it is or what it looks like. Jeff hasn't told us yet. All we can say is that damn La-la-la-loli-loli intro has been replaced by white noise.
  • Umm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by salad_fingers (908746) on Monday August 14, 2006 @12:02PM (#15903789)
    Can you find me now? Good.
  • RIAA (Score:4, Funny)

    by ThePopeLayton (868042) on Monday August 14, 2006 @12:05PM (#15903810)
    Whatever, I am sure this is an RIAA funded project to shut down XM radio
  • The actual research (Score:5, Informative)

    by FleaPlus (6935) * on Monday August 14, 2006 @12:08PM (#15903842) Journal
    I fished around a little and found a link for the actual research paper the article is based on. The paper itself requires a subscription, but here's the abstract:

    The atmospheric implications of radiation belt remediation [copernicus.org]

    C. J. Rodger, M. A. Clilverd, Th. Ulich, P. T. Verronen, E. Turunen, N. R. Thomson

    Abstract: High altitude nuclear explosions (HANEs) and geomagnetic storms can produce large scale injections of relativistic particles into the inner radiation belts. It is recognised that these large increases in >1 MeV trapped electron fluxes can shorten the operational lifetime of low Earth orbiting satellites, threatening a large, valuable population. Therefore, studies are being undertaken to bring about practical human control of the radiation belts, termed "Radiation Belt Remediation" (RBR). Here we consider the upper atmospheric consequences of an RBR system operating over either 1 or 10 days. The RBR-forced neutral chemistry changes, leading to NOx enhancements and Ox depletions, are significant during the timescale of the precipitation but are generally not long-lasting. The magnitudes, time-scales, and altitudes of these changes are no more significant than those observed during large solar proton events. In contrast, RBR-operation will lead to unusually intense HF blackouts for about the first half of the operation time, producing large scale disruptions to radio communication and navigation systems. While the neutral atmosphere changes are not particularly important, HF disruptions could be an important area for policy makers to consider, particularly for the remediation of natural injections.


    I'd never heard of the "radiation belt remediation" procedure that was mentioned in the article, so I dug around some more and located the following paper:

    Remediation of radiation belts using electrostatic tether structures [tethers.com]

    Abstract: Scattering of energetic charged particles by high-voltage electrostatic tether structures may present a technically and economically viable method of rapidly remediating radiation belts caused by both natural processes and manmade events. In this paper, we describe a concept for a system of electrostatic tether structures designed to rapidly remediate an artificial radiation belt caused by a high altitude nuclear detonation. We then investigate the scaling of the system size and power requirements with the tether voltage and other design parameters. These scaling analyses indicate that a conventional single-line tether design cannot provide sufficient performance to achieve a system design that is viable. We then propose innovative multiwire tether geometry and show that this tether design can significantly improve the overall performance of the electrostatic system, enabling the requirements for total power and number of satellite systems to be reduced to levels that are both technically and economically viable.


    The slashdot submission and popular press-article (but not the research paper) engages in some fear-mongering about how the US is supposedly planning on deploying RBR, but I haven't found any sources which confirm this to actually be the case. It should probably be mentioned that DARPA funds almost everything under the sun, usually without much expectation of it actually being of practical use. I mean, this is the same DARPA that funded psychic telepathy research and mechanical elephants for the jungles of Vietnam. [hnn.us]

    Regardless of whether or not it's practical, radiation belt remediation still seems like interesting research. It'd be a shame if fear-mongering about this being a "US plot to disrupt worldwide communications" or something resulted in funding for this research being cut off.
    • I bet they're doing this using HAARP [alaska.edu]. The ionosphere is now under our control. Bahahahaha....zap....oooops.
    • Good info, cheers.

      I say go for it. Its not like there is anyone important living in the South Pacific: Just Hawaii, Easter Island, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Marquesas, Samoa, Society, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuamotu, Tuvalu & Wallis, Futuna islands, Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands, Mariana Islands, New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

      and I'm sure some of those names are made up too. What do they care, they probably dont even have satellite communication

      • You forgot the Hanso Foundation's electromagnetic research facility.
      • Opening up the Ozone hole is not expected to heat the globe up a little more.
        Not only is it not expected, it has never even been sugested.
        • fair comment. The last paragraph of the article said "ozone depletion would be short-lived" and I figured that it would have an effect on global warming, but our prime /. reference (Wikipedia) states:

          Ozone depletion represents a radiative forcing of the climate system. There are two opposed effects: reduced ozone allows more solar radiation to penetrate, thus warming the troposphere. But a colder stratosphere emits less long-wave radiation, tending to cool the troposphere. Overall, the cooling dominates

          a

          • I seriously doubt these tests will ever come to pass. DARPA doesn't like to run tests that other scientifically advanced nations can detect and then point a damning finger at. They'd be more likely to fund research for high MeV particle resistant satellite and aircraft systems (since that has no noticeable external effects... keep the "advantage" secret)

            And enjoy your cancer.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ... in payment from the UN, or else we'll carry out our dastardly plan to dump the radiation belts into the atmosphere!

    (Man, this is so much cooler than that shark / laser beam idea...)

    Muhahaha!

  • by Lazarian (906722)
    Unless I missed it, neither article outlined how the States would accomplish this. The only thing that comes to mind would be research done with http://www.haarp.alaska.edu/ [alaska.edu]HAARP.

    It doesn't seem surprising that they're considering measures like this to protect satellites, considering nutbag states like North Korea and their fondness for testing missiles (Oops! tee hee, we didnt mean to do that to your satellites). Even if there was a massive solar storm that threatened low-orbiting sats instead of an act

  • The approach, which is being considered by the US Air Force and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, involves using very low frequency radio waves to flush particles from belts and dump them into the upper atmosphere over either one or several days

    Flushing ions from the radiation belts is one step from focusing them on our enemies satellites.

  • this doesn't affect my new transporter. They were on sale a few weeks ago at Sears and it just got installed over the weekend.
  • How is this going to affect us Ham operators?

    One side, it says they'll use HF (well, probably MF to ELF) signals which re-attune the ionosphere to EHF absorption...

    So, which is it?
  • Are there any plans to put astronauts into space at the same time, for some "experiments..." I think the USAF is planning to make some big green angry fly-boys. Or maybe a team of highly trained scientists will create do some fantastic research out there during the tests.
  • Nothing to see here (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nurf (11774) on Monday August 14, 2006 @12:49PM (#15904171) Homepage
    The article summary seems a little hysterical to me. It's "US plans" this and "US plans" that, combined with dark words about tampering with our environment. I am not American myself and am rather used to seeing this bias in reporting, especially in New Zealand press.

    Solar sun spot activity often disrupts HF radio communications, and amazingly the world does not end. I have been involved in an HF station that provides missionaries and farmers in central Africa with a way to communicate, and you generally live with the fact that no communications are possible much of the time. HF is just plain unreliable. If GPS and HF communications were disrupted with some advance warning, it would be inconvenient for sure, but that's about it. In exchange the world would get a much safer radiation environment for satellites and human-occupied space stations.

    So, we have a cost and a benefit. The cost isn't anything that people have had to do without before.

    Political manoeuvering and a mildly hysterical press aside, there isn't much of a story here.
    • Argh. I should have previewed one more time. The cost is something that people have had to do without before.
    • Oh FFS, the Slashdot article refers to a "US Plan" as well - is Slashdot suddenly anti-American too?

      Get a grip.
      • Um, the fact that there was even an article about something so pedestrian says something. The fact that they had to put the word "US" in front of almost every reference to the scheme says something. They told everyone it was a US plan at the beginning of the article; the redundancy was totally unnecessary.

        *shrug* And yes, there is a general bias in many world media sources. They don't even know they have it. It's just that they spend most of their time speaking to each other, and the group "center of mass"
      • There is nothing sudden about the anti-American nature of Slashdot. I think I can make a reasonable argument that Slashdot has more bad things to say about the USA than other nations:

        1) People tend to talk more about things that annoy them. Things that annoy people generate more comments, and are more likely to be accepted as articles, because increased commenting is assumed to be correlated with increased interest. Your reply to me is an example.
        2) People tend to be more annoyed about things that affect th
  • If the Earth uses its own magnetic field to repel these dangerous particles.. why not generate magnetic fields in some way to protect the satellites in the same manner?
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Monday August 14, 2006 @01:05PM (#15904287)
    Somedays I wonder if I've fallen through the looking-glass.
    • A high-altitude nuke blast will scrable the ionosphere pretty good. The one the US tested in 1962 shut down the HF radio bands for many hours. That much is known.
    • Using big conductive hair-nets to discharge the ionization is a blue-sky, well, black-sky speculation.
    • It involves a lot of non-existent hardware and techniques.
    • Among the many unknowns are : how to orbit a many kilowatt 200Kv power source.
    • how to deploy up to 100Km of fishnet stockings.
    • and how to keep these satellites and stockings deployed as they plow through electrostatic and magnetic fields.
    • And oh, it's unclear how much of the ionization will be affected by a pair of ho-net stockings approximately the size of New Jersey.

      So IMHO it's way too early to worry about the existence, magnitude, or net benefit of the side-effects.

  • Not comfortable (Score:2, Informative)

    The theory is sound, but if the practice screws up then they could end up dumping excess radiation on to the Earth's surface. Sure the Satellites would be protected, but given the resulting state of people on the planet, is it really worth it. Surely building in better protection into the satellites in the first place would be the better solution.
    • Re:Not comfortable (Score:3, Informative)

      by RexRhino (769423)
      1. It would not dump any excess radiation to the Earths surface. It would effect the ionosphere and possibly (speculative since the technology only exists in people's imagination), effecting how radio waves bounce off the ionosphere.

      2. Even if it did, this is primarily proposed as a defense against nuclear detonations in the upper atmosphere... I think detonating nuclear weapons in the upper atmosphere is going to cause so many problems with radio that this plan would be the least of people's worries.

      You th
  • FTFA

    "'If the intense radiation belts resulted from a rogue state detonating a nuclear-tipped missile in the upper atmosphere, using such remediation technology would probably be acceptable to the international community,' they said."

    Any small country that goes through the trouble of building a nuke AND a reliable long-range missle to deliver it is probably not going to waste it on the upper atmosphere. Body-counts make for much better bragging.
    • If I was the guy with the monocle and persian cat, I'd seriously consider it. Let's say that I have a dozen nuclear weapons. For the cost of one weapon and launch vehicle, I can cause severe economic damage and disruption to the Great Satan, without directly killing anyone. This makes it difficult for my enemies to justify retaliating with nuclear weapons. I still have 11 nuclear weapons that I can use to threaten anyone who attacks me with conventional weapons.
      • Do you REALLY think just because you blew it up in the atmosphere they wouldn't retaliate against people? Look at Iraq, they never touched the US and we still invaded them.
        • Let's take North Korea for an example. Kim Jong-il can pick up the telephone, and in a half-hour, Seoul will be a smoking hole in the ground. That's without using any nukes or other weapons of mass destruction. How are you going to punish him without destroying South Korea in the process?

          Anyone with a few nukes and some medium-range missiles could threaten to destroy his neighbors' largest cities if attacked.

  • a super-Degauss button!
  • There have been other metods proposed to remediate radiation belts that don't require wrecking RF comminucations.

    one proposal [space.com] suggests using a long conductive tether orbiting in the radiation belt. The charged particles in the belt would interact with the electric charge on the tether, altering their orbit in a way that would remove them from the belt.

    Yes, this is a spaced based solution. But even though it has to be launched, it still could be simpler and cheaper than making a huge VLF transmitter

    • There have been other metods proposed to remediate radiation belts that don't require wrecking RF comminucations.

      one proposal suggests using a long conductive tether orbiting in the radiation belt. The charged particles in the belt would interact with the electric charge on the tether, altering their orbit in a way that would remove them from the belt.


      The details are kind of hazy, but I think the tether-based approach is actually what the submitter's article is about. The claim is that using tethers to rem
  • by BitterOak (537666) on Monday August 14, 2006 @01:28PM (#15904514)
    If I understand the summary correctly, the procedure would cause the ionosphere to stop reflecting signals, which would indeed disrupt radio communications which use the ionosphere as a "mirror". But the GPS system relies on signals being sent directly from the satellites to the receivers and doesn't use the mirror effect. Indeed, "bounced" signals would destroy the accuracy of the system as the signal path length would be way, way off.
    • Would someome please mod parent up? Finally someone asks an intelligent question. The abstract of the article in question say "HF" and nothing about GPS. In fact, GPS uses 1.5 GHz, which is UHF, not HF (2.3 to 26 MHz). UHF does not bounce off the atmosphere (or does so only under extremely rare conditions), which is why TV stations are ordinarily limited to line-of-sight, unlike shortwave radio. The whole "GPS" aspect appears to have been invented by the news reporter for sensationalism.
  • as if we haven't got enough to fucking worry about with global warming, now the american military has to go fuck with the ionosphere as well. i mean jesus fucking christ what _exactly_ do they want to try to do: accelerate the death of everybody?? have they actually studied what the ionosphere actually _does_?

    hey you stupid american military dicks: get your dicks out of your collective arses and STOP fucking with the planet, for god's sake.

    did it _ever_ occur to you _why_ those radio waves are bounced bac
  • When I was young (like the range of 1958-62, when I was 9-13 years old) I saw what appeared to be an aurora display except that the display was entirely colored specks, like colored stars. I don't believe that aurora is capable of that, but I have always wondered if it were somehow a result of a high altitude, maybe exoatmospheric, nuclear blast that caused it. It was quite impressive and clearly visible. I have sought explanations for it on the web, but to no avail.
  • I'd imagine huge snarl ups and disasters in the wake of a GPS outage, with LORAN usage in decline and navigators unfamiliar with older methods of navigation.

    I wonder if inertial navigation would offer a self-contained alternative that could, at least for airplanes and large ships, replace or augment GPS. These systems integrate acceleration in three dimensions to arrive at a new position given a starting position; the same method used in the Apollo mission and for ICBMs.

    My father in law, who died a few mo
  • As if thousands of Geocachers suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced...
  • that the US military built the GPS network and reserves the right to turn it off whenever it feels the need?
  • I don't understand how this scheme of putting a shield in the ionosphere is supposed to protect satellites, which are all outside the ionosphere, from solar storms caused by the Sun which is also outside the ionosphere. It seems to me that this shield would be effective only for Earth originated "attacks".
  • "We were the ones to scorch the sky..."

    I didn't see anything that mentioned the (theoretical) affect this would have on the upper atmosphere and the normal processes that occur there outside of the absorption of radio waves. Ozone layer? Electric charge and storms?

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