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GPS, Satellite Communications Will be Challenged as Solar Flare Activity Rises

“Since 2004 and during a period of minimum solar flare activity, an increasingly complex and brittle technical infrastructure has been installed for communications, power and navigation. During the upcoming period of solar activity, these systems will be tested for the first time.

“We have been observing the sun during the space age for only 50 years and we do not fully understand its behavior, especially the extremes of its behavior. In 2006 there was an eruption of solar radiation 100 times more intense than expected that temporarily silenced many GPS receivers over the sun-lit Earth. What is the ultimate limit of such eruptions of solar energy? Is it 1,000 times more intense, 10,000 times more intense? We just don’t know.

“For the past 50 or 60 years, the sun has been quite predictable. In recent years, it has become less predictable, which calls into question our understanding of how the sun operates and our ability to predict is impact on technology.

“However, we do know that our increasingly more efficient infrastructure is also less robust and more vulnerable. Every time its efficiency is improved and money is saved, the chances for a catastrophic failure are increased and this includes failures produced by space weather.

“For many GPS applications, business plans make demands that the designers of GPS never envisioned – nor does the U.S government guarantee. Space weather – such as the upcoming period of increased solar activity – will challenge these business plans and test the vulnerabilities of our communications and navigation infrastructure.”

--Paul M. Kintner, an expert on GPS and satellite communication and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University.

Joe Schwartz | Newswise Science News
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