Blog Editor’s Note: A good overview of all the ways the sun can mess with things in orbit.
We have noted before that scientists agree that a coronal mass ejection will someday charge the atmosphere enough to prevent GPS/GNSS reception for two to five days. They disagree, though, as to whether solar activity could actually destroy hardened, military grade, GPS satellites. Some say “no.” Others say “It’s the sun! How much more powerful does it get?”
It really is just a guessing game as to when we are out of service for a couple days, or permanently.
Either way, if we are not ready, the game is Russian Roulette.
MARCH 3, 2022
On Feb. 4, 2022, SpaceX launched 49 satellites as part of Elon Musk’s Starlink internet project, most of which burned up in the atmosphere days later. The cause of this more than US$50 million failure was a geomagnetic storm caused by the sun.
Geomagnetic storms occur when space weather hits and interacts with the Earth. Space weather is caused by fluctuations within the sun that blast electrons, protons and other particles into space. I study the hazards space weather poses to space-based assets and how scientists can improve the models and prediction of space weather to protect against these hazards.
When space weather reaches Earth, it triggers many complicated processes that can cause a lot of trouble for anything in orbit. And engineers like me are working to better understand these risks and defend satellites against them.