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Pentagon plan to save endangered satellites not without risks

Evan Blass
08.15.06
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As you may or may not know (we sure didn't), all those satellites orbiting our little ball of blue are highly susceptible to traumatic events such as intense solar storms or space-based nuclear blasts, and would likely be crippled by the resulting swarm of charged particles. The big brains at the Pentagon are aware of this danger, of course, and have come up with a solution called "radiation belt remediation" that would employ even more sats to broadcast low frequency radio waves into particle filled areas, creating so-called wave-particle interactions that would encourage the pesky molecules to fall harmlessly into the Earth's upper atmosphere. Sounds like a great plan, except a team of researchers at New Zealand's University of Otago believe that all those charged particles in the ionosphere would absorb the vital communications signals that are normally supposed to be reflected back down to terra firma. Long story short, by saving the satellites, communications on the ground would be severely hampered, affecting everyone from military personnel to amateur radio hobbyists -- and in a worst case scenario, GPS signal quality and accuracy could be severely degraded, much to the dismay of the burgeoning geocaching community. Still, if this is the only option we've got in the face of a nuclear attack, losing ground -based communications for a week or so is a small price to pay in order to save hundreds of satellites; we can deal with our in-car sat nav systems acting screwy for a little while, but we must protect our ability to receive XM/Sirius and DISH/DirecTV broadcasts at all costs.

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