Protecting satellites from solar flares

Satellite vulnerability: Photo from Wikipedia Commons
Satellite vulnerability: Photo from Wikipedia Commons

One possible solution

The high energy particles spewed out of sunspots can knock out satellites and electric power grids. To prevent this from happening 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.

What are the consequences?

This deluge of dumped charged particles would temporarily change the ionosphere from a "mirror" that bounced high frequency radio waves around the planet to a "sponge" that soaked them up, says Dr Craig Rodger of Otago University's physics department.
“Airplane pilots and ships would lose radio contact and some Pacific Island nations could be isolated for as long as six to seven days, depending on the system’s design and how it was operated,” he says.
GPS would likely also suffer large-scale disruptions, as signals between ground users and satellites were scrambled by the ionosphere, he added. Otego media release

Is it worth it?

Can people like Joe can go without geocaching for a week. Smart bombs also would need to take a breather because they use GPS to find their targets. We are seeing a minimum of sunspot activity right now. Sunspots peak every eleven years. The last memorable blast from the sun was July 14, 2000 so we need to make up our minds before 2011.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I wonder if SWANsat has thought of this?

Wayde's Blog: SWANsat to Turn Earth into Wi-Fi Hotspot

Imagine a series of at least three geosynchronous orbital satellites providing wireless Internet access to the entire world. That’s exactly what a project called SWANsat or Super-Wide Area Network Satellite plans to do by the year 2011. They intend to be a global broadband Internet service provider that can facilitate up to 600 million connections per satellite. All you need is a handheld mobile device to connect to the system.

posted on Mon, 08/21/2006 - 10:18pm
Charles Welty's picture

Yes, we have thought of solar flares and other problems that could damage the spacecraft. Our vendor, IOSTAR Corporation, tells us that the spacecraft will be "space hardened" to withstand to the highest possible degree any solar radiation flares that the sun may throw at the earth. We expect the SWANsat constellation to be functioning when other satellites have gone dead. And remember, the SWANsat constellations are not solar powered.

posted on Sat, 03/22/2008 - 6:13pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Would it kock out the power grids? if so, how long would it take to get them back up?

posted on Thu, 03/22/2007 - 8:08am
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

In March 1989, a solar storm much less intense than the perfect space storm of 1859 caused the Hydro-Quebec (Canada) power grid to go down for over nine hours, and the resulting damages and loss in revenue were estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Satellites can be disabled.

In 1997, an AT&T Telestar 401 satellite used to broadcast television shows from networks to local affiliates was knocked out during a solar storm. In May 1998 a solar blast disabled PanAmSat's Galaxy IV. Among the casualties: automated teller machines; gas station credit card handling services; 80 percent of all pagers in the United States; news wire service feeds; CNN's airport network; and some airline weather tracking services. NASA

posted on Fri, 03/23/2007 - 9:09am
alex96's picture
alex96 says:

This deluge of dumped charged particles would temporarily change the ionosphere from a "mirror" that bounced high frequency radio waves around the planet to a "sponge" that soaked them up.

posted on Tue, 08/16/2011 - 7:57pm

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