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CCI - News for Today [06 sep 98]

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Title: CCI - News for Today
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Daily News
From Newsbytes News Network

Researchers Warn End Of Year Storm Threat To Satellites

- By Steve Gold, Newsbytes

As Hurricane Bonnie blows itself out on the East Coast of America this weekend, many eyes are now looking spaceward as researchers are warning that a hurricane in space could lay waste to many of the earth's satellites in around 80 days.

According to a report in today's Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the Leonid storm will bombard the earth with its worst meteor storm for 32 years.

The difference today, of course, is that there are thousands of satellites in orbit around the earth. The biggest threat, Newsbytes notes, is to geostationary satellites such as those used by DTH (direct to home) satellite broadcasters, as well as telecommunications satellites that must remain in place, relative to the earth, for ground based dishes to track them.

According to the WSJ, as many as eleven meteor "storms" hit the earth every year, but the Leonid storm is something else -- a fierce cluster of meteorites that will have an intercept velocity of more than 150,000 miles per hour. At these sorts of speeds, Newsbytes notes, even a speck of dust will have sufficient velocity to punch a hole in sheet steel, let along the flimsy fabric of a satellite.

The Leonid storm is thought to be thicker and faster than any other cluster of meteoric debris yet seen to hit the earth. The problem is caused, scientists say, by the debris cloud having skirted the sun late last year, causing larger clumps of matter to break up and gather in a concentrated dust cloud.

When added to the slingshot effect of the sun's gravity and the intercept angle with the earth's orbit, scientists say that the meteor storm is travelling at between two and three times the "normal" speed for meteors when they arrive within the earth's gravity field.

The WSJ notes that, when the last serious meteor storm occurred back in 1966, there were relatively few satellites in orbit, and most of those were either used for weather forecasts and spy observations.

Today, however, significant portions of the telecommunications spectrum is reliant on satellites -- even the new generation of LEO (low earth orbit) satellites are not immune, Newsbytes notes, as there is little atmosphere to burn up mini meteorites before they intercept the satellite's orbit.

Most satellite firms are not worried about the Leonid storm, mainly because they have insurance against failures, as well as backup satellites which can replace the zapped ones as and when they fail.

However, scientists are predicting that the effects of the storm could be more serious than expected. The satellite operators, meanwhile, are taking no chances, and are reshaping their satellite solar arrays to minimize any possible damage. NASA also plans to move its Hubble telescope so that it faces away from the main blast of the meteor storm, again minimizing the potential effects.

Article posted on 08/30/98

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