This story is a supplement to the feature "Bracing the Satellite Infrastructure for a Solar Superstorm" which was printed in the August 2008 issue of Scientific American.
Feeling the Full Brunt
The harshness of space takes a toll on satellites even at the best of times. A superstorm would cause years’ worth of damage within a few hours.
Solar particles and radiation puff up the atmosphere, increasing the drag forces on low-orbiting satellites.
How to Prepare
If a storm were on its way, we could do the following:
- Satellite operators put off critical command sequences. During the storm itself, they monitor their birds and override any spurious commands.
- GPS users switch to backup navigation systems.
- Astronauts avoid space walks.
Illustrations by Melissa Thomas