Author Topic: Military Looks to Shield Its Satellites from Electromagnetic Attacks  (Read 411 times)

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BY Robert Beckhusen,

Electromagnetic pulse attacks are one of those things that keep some military officials wide awake at night -- and put others soundly asleep. It all depends on who you’re talking about. For the former, including a number of doomsayers, missile-defense boosters, and prominent politicos, the risk is that a rogue state could emit a blast of electromagnetic energy by way of a nuclear explosion in the upper atmosphere, frying electronic systems from California to Cape Cod.

 For skeptics -- and many scientists -- it’s all an overblown theory containing loads of technical and practical problems. More realistically, it'd be lights out when we’re eventually hit by a rare and exceedingly powerful solar storm. But concerns about weaponized EMP persist. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a Pentagon body focused on countering threats from nuclear weapons, has put out the call for new studies into the phenomenon, according to a notice from the agency posted in December. Specifically, DTRA wants to research "high-altitude weapons electromagnetic pulse effects modeling" for satellites. The ultimate goal is to come up with a uniform military standard for EMP effects on satellites, which could later be used to harden them against an attack. The term "effects modeling" in the notice refers to laboratory simulations. DTRA has also stressed it's not trying to predict the likelihood of an e-bomb attack, just the expected results of one. We have some experience with this -- albeit with several gaps.

For one, we do know that satellites in low-earth orbit would be in grave danger of getting zapped by EMP. Satellites at these orbits include ones used for high-resolution imagery, monitoring the weatherb and handling telecommunications. They also include a large number of military situational awareness satellites and the International Space Station. Four years ago, DTRA rounded up research into 16 high-altitude nuclear detonations during the Cold War that damaged or destroyed at least eight satellites. Most famously, Telstar 1 -- the world's first communications satellite -- was damaged in 1962 after its transistors were bombarded by electrons released by the 1.4-megaton, 250-mile-high Starfish Prime nuclear test. While most low-earth-orbit satellites would avoid being immediately knocked out by an EMP, the presence of radiation exposure over the long term is a "serious long-term hazard" that "could seriously hamper any war effort, particularly in remote regions," the agency noted in a 2010 report. Little is known about effects of EMP at higher altitudes, above 370 or so, or below 60 miles. For a ballistic missile defense system that successfully strikes and detonates a nuclear ICBM at high altitudes, "strategies may risk being designed on the basis of inappropriate levels of nuclear effects, at least for detonations in the upper half of the mid-course battle space," the report added. The good news is that the agency doesn't think mid- and high-earth orbit satellites are at great risk for any damage beyond a slightly shorter lifespan. "Satellites in MEO or GEO are not at risk to immediate loss from radiation damage resulting from a credible EMP attack anywhere on Earth," the agency concluded. At high orbits, spy satellites from the National Reconnaissance Office, military communications satellites, and ballistic missile detectors -- plus the Global Positioning System -- are already heavily shielded from radiation. Radiation injected by a weapon at high orbits would also decay within days instead of years like in low orbits, lessening the effect further. There are several things you could do to make satellites more survivable, though. There's hardening and shielding, which can add weight and cost -- a problem for private companies that own and operate LEO satellites jointly used by the military.

The often-misunderstood, $250 million High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is even used by the Air Force to research how to scrub the magnetosphere of electrons emitted by nuclear weapons that could screw up satellite transistors. But then there's the practical problem for whoever's doing the nuking which makes the scenario not that plausible. If you’re a rogue dictator with some loose H-bombs, why launch them into space when you could just nuke a city? Either way you've started a nuclear war with the world's most powerful nuclear power. The risk of starting Armageddon is still the same. What makes EMP so different? Still, you can't fault DTRA for at least being interested in the idea. And on the flip side, there's always the potential for non-nuclear EMP space weapons to get panicky about. Don't lose too much sleep over it, though -

See more at: http://complex.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/01/03/bzzt_military_wants_to_protect_satellites_from_emp_weapons#sthash.9sjIxXRR.dpuf

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Re: Military Looks to Shield Its Satellites from Electromagnetic Attacks
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2014, 03:28:42 AM »
List of Nuclear High Altitude Atmospheric Tests

USA – Hardtack I – Johnston Atoll, Pacific Ocean
Yucca 28 April 1958, 1.7 kt, 26.2 km
Teak, 1 August 1958, 3.8 Mt, 76.8 km
Orange, 12 August 1958, 3.8 Mt, 43 km

United States USA – Argus – South Atlantic Ocean
Argus I, 27 August 1958, 1.7 kt, 200 km
Argus II, 30 August 1958, 1.7 kt, 240 km
Argus III, 6 September 1958, 1.7 kt, 540 km (The highest known man made nuclear explosion)

Soviet Union USSR – 1961 tests – Kapustin Yar

Test #88, 6 September 1961, 10.5 kt, 22.7 km
Test #115, 6 October 1961, 40 kt, 41.3 km
Test #127, 27 October 1961, 1.2 kt, 150 km
Test #128, 27 October 1961, 1.2. kt, 300 km

United States USA – Dominic I – (Operation Fishbowl) – Johnson Atoll, Pacific Ocean
Bluegill, 3 June 1962, failed
Bluegill Prime, 25 July 1962, failed
Bluegill Double Prime, 15 October 1962, failed
Bluegill Triple Prime, 26 October 1962, 410 kt, 50 km
Starfish, 20 June 1962, failed
Starfish Prime, 9 July 1962, 1.4 Mt, 400 km (The largest man made nuclear explosion in outer space)
Checkmate, 20 October 1962, 7 kt, 147 km
Kingfish, 1 November 1962, 410 kt, 97 km

Soviet Union USSR – 1962 tests – Kapustin Yar
Test #184, 22 October 1962, 300 kt, 290 km
Test #187, 28 October 1962, 300 kt, 150 km
Test #195, 1 November 1962, 300 kt, 59 km
« Last Edit: January 04, 2014, 03:49:14 AM by SPQR »

Offline EC

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Re: Military Looks to Shield Its Satellites from Electromagnetic Attacks
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2014, 06:06:07 AM »
How would you even insulate them? They are metal cages, with solid state components and no way to discharge the pulse. Vacuum is not a terribly good conductor.

Only way I can think of, off the top of my admittedly sleep lacking brain, is to stick a small ion rocket in the satellite. Tiny one - a millionth of a G thrust - but enough to disperse the charge before things fry. It's play hell with the orbits, but better to have a sat on a new orbit than a lump of metal that doesn't respond at all.
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Re: Military Looks to Shield Its Satellites from Electromagnetic Attacks
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2014, 04:03:13 PM »
How would you even insulate them? They are metal cages, with solid state components and no way to discharge the pulse. Vacuum is not a terribly good conductor.



The satellites are equipped with special chips.The first method is metallic shielding. Shields are made of a continuous piece of metal such as steel or copper.The second method, tailored hardening, is a more cost-effective way of hardening.

http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/emp/toc.htm
« Last Edit: January 04, 2014, 04:06:20 PM by SPQR »

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Re: Military Looks to Shield Its Satellites from Electromagnetic Attacks
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2014, 05:14:03 PM »
EMP is small change.  If you really want to take out someone's satellite with a nuke, first time, every time, you use that nuke to fire a pumped x-ray laser and fire a few million mega-joules worth of hard radiation at the target and blow it into lots of little glowing pieces...

 :beer:

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Re: Military Looks to Shield Its Satellites from Electromagnetic Attacks
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2014, 08:11:46 PM »
EMP is small change.  If you really want to take out someone's satellite with a nuke, first time, every time, you use that nuke to fire a pumped x-ray laser and fire a few million mega-joules worth of hard radiation at the target and blow it into lots of little glowing pieces...

 :beer:
:beer:

Offline EC

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Re: Military Looks to Shield Its Satellites from Electromagnetic Attacks
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2014, 08:23:24 PM »
Best thing to take out a satellite is another one. I know that both the USSR and the USA still have hunter killer sats in orbit, designed to take out communications sats and spy sats. They are small, overfueled and normally just orbit in standby mode.
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Re: Military Looks to Shield Its Satellites from Electromagnetic Attacks
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2014, 01:42:50 AM »
Best thing to take out a satellite is another one. I know that both the USSR and the USA still have hunter killer sats in orbit, designed to take out communications sats and spy sats. They are small, overfueled and normally just orbit in standby mode.

You mean ASATs. The U.S. is experimenting with them.On February 21, 2008, USA destroyed a malfunctioning U.S. spy satellite USA-193 using a RIM-161 Standard Missile 3(Operation:Burnt Frost). In 2007, the Chinese successfully destroyed a defunct Chinese weather satellite, FY-1C in 2007
« Last Edit: January 05, 2014, 01:43:17 AM by SPQR »


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