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Satellite Operators Brace For Meteor Shower


Satellite Operators Brace For Meteor Shower
(10/05/98 2:26 p.m. ET)
By Andrew Craig, TechWeb 

Satellite operators are bracing their equipment for a
massive meteor shower next month, but opinion is
divided over whether to expect a communications
catastrophe or just a gigantic fireworks display.

When the Leonids meteor shower occurs on Nov. 17
and Nov. 18 this year, it will appear as a spectacular
visual show for observers on earth. For the several
hundred satellites providing telecommunications,
broadcasting, and other signals, however, the
fast-moving sand-sized particles could cause damage
and disruption, said experts in the satellite industry. 

Leonids is a meteor shower that trails the Temple-Tuttle
comet as it passes the earth every year. The comet is on
a 33-year cycle and will be closer to the earth this year
than it has been since 1965. 

The majority of the particles in the shower are smaller
than a grain of sand, but will be traveling at more than
200 times the speed of sound. The particles will
vaporize material on impact. This could devastate the
electronics on board one of the 800 satellites now
orbiting earth. 

The impact of a satellite outage was felt in May, when
almost all pagers in the United States went out of action
after a technical problem with the PanAmSat Galaxy IV
communications satellite. 

Satellite operators are taking precautions to limit the
likelihood of their satellites being damaged by the
shower. San Jose, Calif.-based satellite operator
Globalstar said it will be taking precautions to make
sure it is less vulnerable to damage from the shower. 

Globalstar will not be adjusting its solar arrays -- the
panels projecting from a satellite -- during the shower,
said Globalstar spokeswoman Jeanette Clonan.
Globalstar has eight low-earth-orbiting satellites for its
satellite-communications system to be launched next
year, but the risk is greater to geostationary satellites, of
which it has seven, said Clonan. Between five and 10
satellites are likely to be affected by the shower. Some
services, such as pager services could be knocked out,
according to satellite-software company AGI. "While
we are not talking about meteoroids the size of Texas
coming at the Earth, there is a reason to be alarmed,"
said AGI president Paul Graziani. 

"Literally thousands of rocks and debris will be hurling
past our satellites, and even a piece of sand going more
than 226 times the speed of sound has the potential to
do major damage," said Graziani. 

But some say the shower may be little more than a
visual spectacular. "Satellites get hit all the time, so
presumably they are built to withstand the impact," said
Chris Tout, an academic at the Institute of Astronomy,
at Cambridge University, England. 

The intensity of a shower like Leonids does increase the
likelihood of a satellite getting hit, said Tout, "but I'm
sure we're not going to have a communications
catastrophe," he said.  

---------------------------- Forwarded with Changes ---------------------------
From: John S Zaleska at MSXGATE
Date: 10/7/98 11:07AM
To: Tom Boza at AZCCM80
RRQ: 10/7/98 11:07
Subject: crap in the sky