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  • One day, without warning or apparent cause,

  • all of humanity's artificial satellites suddenly disappear.

  • The first to understand the situation

  • are a handful of government and commercial operators.

  • But well before they have time to process what's happened,

  • millions sitting on their couches become aware that something is amiss.

  • TV that's broadcast from or routed through satellites dominate the market

  • for international programming as well as some local channels,

  • so the disappearance causes immediate disruptions, worldwide.

  • The next people affected are those traveling by air, sea, or land,

  • as global positioning, navigation and timing services, have entirely ceased.

  • Pilots, captains, and drivers have to determine their locations

  • using analog instruments and maps.

  • Aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles get stopped, grounded, or returned to port.

  • In the meantime, air traffic controllers have a difficult task on their hands

  • to prevent plane crashes.

  • Within hours, most of the planet's traffic grinds to a halt.

  • The effects aren't limited to entertainment and travel.

  • All sorts of machines, from heating and cooling systems to assembly lines,

  • rely on super-accurate satellite-based timing systems,

  • and many have little-to-no backup options.

  • Stoplights and other traffic control systems stop synchronizing,

  • so police and good Samaritans step in to direct the remaining cars

  • and prevent as many accidents as possible.

  • The most catastrophic impact is yet to come.

  • Because in the next few hours, the world economy shuts down.

  • Satellite-based timestamps play a critical part in everything

  • from credit card readers and stock exchanges

  • to the systems that keep track of transactions.

  • People are unable to withdraw cash or make electronic payments.

  • Logistics and supply chains for crucial goods like food and medicine fragment,

  • leaving people to survive on whatever is locally available.

  • Most countries declare a state of emergency

  • and call on the military to restore order.

  • That may take quite a while.

  • Most navigation and communication systems are no longer operational,

  • so military chains of command may be in disarray.

  • Many troops, including those actively deployed, are left to their own devices.

  • Commanders of nuclear submarines and missile control centers

  • wonder if the disruption is the result of a hostile attack.

  • What sorts of decisions do they make with partial information?

  • Even in the best-case scenario,

  • our civilization gets set back by decades at the very least.

  • That's because, despite being a relatively new phenomenon,

  • satellites have quickly replaced more traditional long range technologies.

  • The combination of global positioning and internet

  • has allowed for near-instant signals that can be synchronized worldwide.

  • Many systems we use daily have been built upon this foundation.

  • Going back to the communication systems of the mid-20th century

  • would not be a simple matter.

  • In many cases, they'd have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

  • While the sudden disappearance in this thought experiment is unlikely,

  • there are two very real scenarios that could lead to the same results.

  • The first is a solar flare so strong it fries satellite circuitry

  • as well as many other devices and power grids around the world.

  • And the second is an orbital chain reaction of collisions.

  • With about 7,500 metric tons of defunct spacecraft, spent boosters,

  • and discarded equipment orbiting our planet

  • at relative speeds up to 56,000 kilometers per hour,

  • even small objects can be highly destructive.

  • A single collision in space could create thousands of new pieces of debris,

  • leading to a chain reaction.

  • Space is huge, but many of the thousands of satellites currently in orbit

  • share the same orbital highways for their specific purposes.

  • And since most objects sent to space are not designed with disposal in mind,

  • these highways only become more congested over time.

  • The good news is, we can protect ourselves by studying our solar system,

  • creating backup options for our satellite networks,

  • and cooperating to avoid an orbital tragedy of the commons.

  • The space kilometers above our heads is like our forests,

  • the ocean's biodiversity and clean air:

  • If we don't treat it as a finite resource,

  • we may wake up one day to find we no longer have it at all.

One day, without warning or apparent cause,

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What if every satellite suddenly disappeared? - Moriba Jah

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    fx に公開 2021 年 02 月 04 日
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