办事指南

Vital satellites sitting ducks for missile attack

点击量:   时间:2017-09-15 03:02:19

By Robert Adler Vital communications and navigation satellites could be more vulnerable to missile attack than previously thought. After China’s deliberate destruction of one of its own satellites in January 2007 (see China comes clean over shot-down satellite), two specialists in infrastructure vulnerability set out to determine whether a rogue state or terrorist group with access to an intermediate-range ballistic missile could also destroy a satellite. Using a satellite-tracking programme available on the internet, plus some university-level physics, they were able to recreate the Chinese shoot-down – minus, they point out, an actual missile. “It is doable with basic knowledge and off-the-shelf information,” says Adrian Gheorghe, a systems engineer at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, US, one of the duo that published the study. “Somebody can destroy your satellites.” Gheorghe and colleague, Dan Vamanu, of the Horia Hulubei National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering, in Bucharest, Romania, were surprised at how easily they could design and guide a missile to shoot down a satellite in a computer simulation. There are roughly 550 active satellites orbiting the Earth – necessary for military and civilian communication, navigation, weather monitoring, surveillance, mapping and scientific research. They chose a commercial satellite-tracking program called Orbitron, created by Polish programmer Sebastian Stoff. This allowed them to choose a satellite – in their case the Chinese weather satellite destroyed in January, Fengyun-1C – and accurately predict its orbit. The researchers then linked the Orbitron program to a flight-control simulator that they had developed. Running the two programs together allowed them to launch, track, and correct the trajectory of their virtual missile. They calculated that the warhead would reach its target 15 minutes and 7 seconds after lift-off, impacting the satellite at 3120 meters per second. In theory, they write, shooting down a satellite is a “piece of cake.” There is, however, a significant gap between theory and practice, cautions Stuart Eves, who manages real satellites and launches at Surrey Satellite Technology, affiliated with the University of Surrey, in Guildford, UK. “You don’t know exactly how the atmosphere will be, or just how your rocket engine will function. It’s not quite that easy in practice.” He notes that even China, which has had an active space program since 1956, required four launches to hit Fengyun-1C. Nonetheless, Eves agrees with Gheorghe and Vamanu that the global satellite infrastructure is potentially vulnerable. “There’s a lot of critical infrastructure out there,” he says. “Any interfering with space will make everyone’s lives miserable.” Journal Reference: International Journal of Critical Infrastructures (Vol 3,