What happens if humanity is deprived of all artificial satellites?

Since their commissioning 60 years ago, satellites have become an indispensable and integral part of our modern high-tech world. We are so used to their reliability and virtual invisibility that we take satellites for granted. The Gizmodo portal decided to find out what could happen if suddenly all the satellites that are currently circling around our planet suddenly fail or simply disappear.

The assumption that the failure of all satellites, or at least more of them, is not as crazy as it might seem at first glance. There are at least three possible scenarios as a result of which this may actually happen sooner or later.

For example, in the science fiction short story "Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War", which will soon appear on store shelves, it is said that satellites can be shot down as a result of the actions of the belligerent countries. In this book, authored by P.V. Singer and August Cola describe how a war breaks out in the not too distant future, in which the Chinese government decides to use high-energy weapons mounted on interceptor satellites to destroy important strategic points in the United States. As a result, dozens of near-earth satellites are destroyed even before ground combat begins.

There is another scenario, as a result of which all satellites can be destroyed. Jeff Keiter, assistant professor at the George S. Marshall Institute, a Virginia research center for scientific and socio-political affairs, says warring parties can destroy satellites from ground stations using jammers, missiles, lasers, and nuclear weapons.

In addition, all of our satellites can be destroyed by a very strong solar storm. The so-called Flash of Carrington, a solar superstorm, one of which occurred, for example, in 1859. If it happens now, our entire high-tech civilization will return several generations back in development. As the Universe Today portal describes, such a super-powerful geomagnetic storm will simply overload the backbone networks on Earth and fry all our electronic devices, including those in orbit of the planet.

“In this case, the particles pass through the Earth and carry an incredibly powerful electrical discharge, ” writes Universe Today.

“If there are satellites near the Earth, then in most cases they are protected by the planet's geomagnetic field, but satellites in higher orbits, especially those in geosynchronous orbits, are completely defenseless against such phenomena. As a result of the storm, charged particles will accumulate inside the satellite, which will eventually release a powerful electrical discharge, which will completely damage the components of the satellite. They'll just burn out. "

Universe Today indicates that right now, several hundred satellites in geosynchronous orbit of the planet remain highly vulnerable. The risk factor also includes satellites located at an altitude of 20, 000 kilometers and responsible for GPS networks.

In the end, the Kessler Syndrome (Effect) should not be ruled out. This scenario was described in the 2013 film Gravity. The downed Russian spy satellite and the fragments scattered after it caused a chain reaction, as a result of which the near-earth space turned into a real dump of broken satellites and even a space station, which, of course, endangered the lives of all astronauts in space. It's scary to admit, but the Kessler Syndrome (Effect) is really very likely, and this probability only increases with the debris accumulating in orbit after various space launches.

Understanding the possibility of the development of the events described above, it will be quite logical to ask the question: what will happen next if one of these events happens what is called here and now. Generally speaking, the complete loss of satellites will lead to a serious disruption in our current high-tech life. The consequences will be both short-term and long-term, and at the same time spanning multiple areas.

Loss of connection

Almost immediately, we will witness a sharp decline in our ability to communicate, transfer information and conduct various digital transactions.

“If we lose communication satellites, it will greatly reduce the capacity of the communication channels, ” says Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and Canadian Observatory scientist working with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

According to McDowell, with the loss of communication satellites, all telecommunication cables and networks laid on the ground and under water will be a useless heap of wires. Despite the fact that some types of communication opportunities will disappear instantly in this case, some will still remain and be able to function.

All international call lines and data traffic will have to be redirected through other channels, which will cause a colossal increase in the load on both land and underwater communication lines. The additional load will eventually reach its limit, and this will affect many phone calls that simply cannot reach the recipients. Cell phones will become useless. In remote areas, people who rely on satellite TV, Internet and radio will find themselves in a communications blockade overnight.

“Yes, television will virtually disappear. After all, much of this television is provided by companies using satellite receivers, ”says McDowell.

It is important to consider that in 1998 there was a precedent that, on a large scale, could lead to such sad consequences for the inhabitants of the entire Earth. Then only one failed satellite was the cause of pagers all over the world inoperative.

Return to paper cards

With the loss of satellites, we will also lose access to the global positioning system. Over the years of its existence, GPS has become an essential service in our life, which is relied on not only by many people, but also by many computerized systems in various industries.

“Not only have many people already forgotten how to operate their cars without GPS, but many planes rely on this system, ” explains McDowell.

While backup methods and navigation systems exist, airlines use GPS to navigate the most cost-effective (in terms of fuel consumption) routes. Without GPS satellites and telecommunications satellites, dispatchers will find it very difficult to maintain communication not only with each other, but also with the planes that are on their routes. Airlines will have to revert to older methods and systems of communication. And given the saturation of today's air traffic, such a development option will definitely increase the percentage of air crashes. Of course, other navigation systems used on cargo ships, as well as in supply and transportation systems, will suffer. They all rely on GPS.

It should be pointed out that GPS is more than just a means of providing precise location information. It is also a system that allows you to calculate time frames. The same function can be performed, for example, by a ground atomic clock, but GPS is effectively used for correcting a single time standard via satellites. In the absence of this capability, networks that require accurate time synchronization will experience a "time shift" resulting in severe performance degradation and the failure of many services. All this can lead to serious consequences. Everything will suffer: from high-voltage backbones to the financial sector.

In his article “A Day Without Space: Implications for the Economy and National Security, ” Ed Morris, executive director of the Space Commercial and Commerce Department, writes:

“If you think that coping with your work when the Internet is not working will seem like a super difficult task, then imagine what will happen if you also lose the ability to communicate on mobile phones, lose access to television, radio, ATMs, credit cards and, possibly, everything. the rest of the electronic things you are using now. [...] "

“Wireless devices, especially those that work with CDMA standards, will become useless. You will not be able to get through from one cell to another. Computer networks will experience latency as data travels over congested links with reduced bandwidth. The same applies to all other major networks used for communication and entertainment, as they all use IP addresses and require maximum timing accuracy to ensure that the sent data has reached its destination. "

The lack of proper timing will especially affect the banking sector, because transaction timings need to be recorded. Credit card and bank account payments are likely to be completely frozen. Billions of dollars, euros and other currencies will simply disappear from business. Probably, one should not say that this will be followed by a severe financial crisis?

Loss of military power

The Joj Marshall Institute explains the implications for U.S. military power:

“Space is a critical link in the proper functioning of all US military structures. Departments of logistics, navigation, communications, weather forecasting centers and the military units themselves will be useless. "

McDowell calls dependence on satellites the "Achilles heel" of the US Army.

Warfare expert Peter W. Singer of the New America Foundation says:

"Whoever controls the sky will control what happens in battles on earth."

Summing up the implications for military capabilities, Singer writes:

“Today there are about 1, 100 active satellites in operation. All of them are the nervous system of not only our economy, but also our army. Everything from communications to GPS and logistics relies on these satellites. Potential adversaries point out that it is for this reason that Russia and China have recently begun testing a new generation of anti-satellite weapons, which in turn has led to an additional injection of $ 5 billion into the US military budget for the development of various space combat systems. "

“What happens if we lose access to space? In that case, as one US military officer put it, “we will have to fight with sticks and stones, ” because all our drones, our missiles and even ground vehicles will be useless without GPS. This will force us to rethink all our ideas about 21st century combat readiness. We may have a new generation of invisible warships, but the loss of space will mean for us the loss of the fleet. Everything will be like in the Battleship game, where two opposing sides, like blind kittens, will try to find each other in the theater of hostilities. "

In addition, McDowell notes that the loss of satellite capabilities will lead to a decrease in the effectiveness of military leadership. Space systems can be used for observation. Without these opportunities, the army will be blind.

“All of this will lead to the fact that no one will know what is really going on, ” says McDowell.

“Satellites provide us with both a global and a local picture of what is happening. The loss of the ability to observe will lead to a decrease in the adequacy and veracity of the information received. And this, in turn, can have a catastrophic effect on security. "

Hydrometeorological centers and climatology will become a thing of the past

One of the most useful things that satellites have provided us is the ability to more accurately predict weather conditions in certain regions of the planet. Predicting little clouds is fine, but some countries, such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, rely on such weather forecasting systems because they can predict the possibility of catastrophic climate change. For example, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has estimated that weather satellites save up to $ 3 billion in potential damage and loss of life during annual hurricane seasons.

The loss of satellites will affect science as well. Most of what we know about climate change comes from satellites.

McDowell says major changes will be visible in the first weeks without satellites. Looking at the issue from a 10-year perspective, however, the lack of access to satellites will make it impossible for us to understand and observe things like the ozone layer, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the movement of ice in the world's oceans. Ground stations and good old weather balloons, of course, can help with this, but the accuracy of the data in this case will be an order of magnitude lower than now.

“We are too dependent on satellites, which are our eyes and tell us about what is happening on the planet. And they tell us when it's really, really needed, ”McDowell continues.

Of course, we should not forget that without satellites we will not be able to monitor the weather in space. For example, we will not be able to know in time when the next solar storm is about to occur.

Time to recover

With the loss of all the satellites of the state, private companies will try to restore their space capabilities. Depending on the nature of the events, which will entail the destruction of all satellites, it may take more than a dozen years in order to be able to return to the previous channel of the technological standard. For example, if the Carrington Flash occurs, and we will have to restore the necessary infrastructure for a very long time, because not only space satellites will be damaged, but all ground-based electronics.

The American army is already preparing for possible similar events and is currently developing methods and means that will allow very quickly to establish communication. These methods and tools may be small satellites that can be launched into low Earth orbit. Compact satellites, cubesats, have been gaining popularity lately. They are easy to launch, inexpensive, and yet effective. True, a short-term solution. US Space Command Headquarters is developing a concept for an emergency recovery method for "rapid deployment that will meet military requirements across the entire spectrum of operations, from peacetime to wartime."

Returning full-size geostationary satellites to orbit will undoubtedly become more challenging. It will take years just to build them. Not to mention the fact that large, expensive rockets will have to be built that can deliver these satellites into space.

In the event of the Kessler Effect, which hits all of our satellites, the recovery and return to technological standard will follow a completely different scenario. McDowell believes that in this case, it will take at least 11 years to restore operability to clear debris from low-earth orbit, otherwise all launched objects below 500 kilometers will simply fall back to Earth.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to reach an altitude of more than 600 kilometers above the Earth's surface, also known as the geostationary orbit of the Earth, for some time. Objects in geostationary orbit remain there for a very, very long time. It is possible that the geostationary orbit will eventually have to be abandoned. Or, in this case, we can manually try to clean it up using the methods known at the moment.

As you can see, the event of the Kessler Effect may seem to be the most serious blow to our