Assessment of the Effects of a Emp Attack on Space Systems

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This report presents the results of the assessment of the effects of a high altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on our critical national infrastructures (Space Systems) and provides recommendations for their mitigation. The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold at risk of catastrophic consequences. The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source of vulnerability to attack by EMP. Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of systems. When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation. This broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability to produce widespread and long lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures.

Over the past few years, there has been increased focus on space systems in low Earth orbits and their unique vulnerabilities, among which is their susceptibility to nuclear detonations at high altitudes—the same events that produce EMP. It is also important to include, for the protection of a satellite-based system in any orbit, its control system and ground infrastructure, including up-link and down-link facilities. Satellites support many significant services including communications, remote sensing, weather forecasting, and imaging. Satellite services are important for national security and emergency preparedness telecommunications because of their ubiquity and separation from other communications infrastructures. Satellites in low Earth orbit generally are at risk of lifetime degradation or failure from collateral radiation effects arising from an EMP attack on ground targets. In the course of an EMP attack, a nuclear detonation at a high altitude produces numerous other effects that can impact the performance and survival of satellites. Examination of these effects relates in two ways. First, nuclear weapon effects on satellites can be collateral consequences of an EMP attack. Second, an EMP attack can degrade ground terminals that satellite systems require for uplinks, downlinks, and control functions. Two classes of effects that are primary threats to the physical integrity of satellites: (1) direct, line-of-sight exposure to nuclear radiation pulses (e.g. X-ray, ultraviolet, gamma-ray, and neutron pulses) and (2) chronic exposure to enhanced high-energy electrons durably trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. These effects can jeopardize satellites in orbit. In many respects, satellite electronics of the 1960s were relatively robust against nuclear effects. Their bulk and comparatively low-speed operation tended to make electronics of the era substantially less vulnerable to radiation upset and damage than modern electronics at comparable exposure levels. The discussion to follow highlights salient points of satellite vulnerabilities to nuclear explosions in the upper atmosphere or space. These vulnerabilities are considerable and incontrovertible — each worldwide fleet of satellites is at risk, but the degree of risk depends on the extent of satellite hardening, satellite location relative to the burst, resultant line-of-sight exposure to prompt radiations, and each satellite’s exposure to geomagnetically trapped energetic particles of natural and nuclear origins. Terms of Reference for Satellites

Ubiquitous Earth-orbiting satellites are a mainstay of modern critical national infrastructures. Satellites provide Earth observations, communications, navigation, weather information, and other capabilities. Each satellite’s orbit is optimized for its intended mission. Low Earth orbits (LEO), from 200 to 2,000 km altitude, are in proximity to the Earth and atmosphere to enable remote sensing, weather data collection,...
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