SkyFail: What happens if America’s satellites suddenly go down?

Americans rely on satellites every day – more than we even realize. Our greatest familiarity is with GPS, helping us find the fastest way to our destination and to order a ride at the push of a button. We use satellites for weather forecasting, not only to help us decide if we need to wear a jacket, but more importantly to give us enough forewarning to evacuate during severe weather events like hurricanes.

What you may not realize, is that satellites are also critical to stock markets, national security and emergency response. So, what happens, if one day, they suddenly go down. That reality is all too possible.

View the full infographic

Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and other actors have recognized America’s growing dependence on satellites and are actively developing counterspace capabilities.

Space Threats Assessment 2018, a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and funded by the Aerospace Industries Association, provides an in-depth look at American vulnerability in space and the “wide array of threats, ranging from cyberattacks and jamming to direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles.”

This report outlines dozens of chilling real life examples. In 2014, Chinese hackers attacked a NOAA satellite forcing the U.S. to take the system down and stop submitting important satellite images to the National Weather Service for two days. In 2017, a ship operating in the Black Sea measured a 30-mile error in its GPS fixing position as part of an apparent GPS spoofing attack; over 20 other ships in the region reported similar issues. These are just two of those examples listed in the report, and even more remain classified.

“We have to up our game if we’re going to stay competitive,” said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. “We have to become much more agile, more innovative, more creative.”

“Urgent action is needed. Countering this new reality requires a clear understanding of the threats and an approach highlighted by renewed national commitment and increased investment,” cautions General (Ret.) C. Robert Kehler, a former commander of both U.S. Strategic Command and Air Force Space Command.

As the report highlights, “counterspace weapons are already being used against the United States and its allies and partners on a regular basis. While it is difficult to imagine a world without the advantages space provides to the military and daily life, it is far too easy to take these capabilities for granted. The growing threats against U.S. space systems and the ground stations that support them require immediate attention and action from policymakers.”

The growing threats against U.S. space systems require immediate attention and action from policymakers.

Read the full Space Threats Assessment 2018 and check out the complete infographic showcasing the consequences of satellite failure below.