The importance of modelling space risk

What happens when a satellite loses connection to a ground application?

What’s the earthly impact of a satellite getting damaged in space?

How are ground users disrupted when a satellite fails?

These questions often don’t get truly explored until, suddenly, they need to be answered. That’s because there aren’t sufficient tools to support advanced planning for the impact of degraded or complete loss of satellite services. But as the activities on our earth are increasingly connected to spatial assets the impact of these events becomes more widespread and potentially more serious. The effects of satellite behaviours are far from an isolated event – instead they will trigger a chain reaction of impacts.

Organisations with space assets, or who utilise any satellite-enabled application, need to start integrating these considerations into their everyday and long-term strategic planning. It’s more important than ever for ground-users to understand how changes to satellites can affect their actions, projects, and missions.

Satellites have an increasingly prominent role on earth

How technologies, processes and people function on earth is increasingly reliant on space assets that provide services such as satellite communication, position navigation and timing, as well as meteorology and environmental monitoring. Everything from turning on appliances in your home to transport networks to financial transactions are managed using data gained from satellites. Satellites are also prolific across every sector, from energy and logistics, to governmental and military applications – working behind the scenes in almost every area of society.

Some prominent use cases that rely on satellites include:

  • Emergency Services
  • Energy Networks
  • Banking transactions
  • Transport networks
  • Weather predictions
  • Extractive Industries
  • Defence

How risks to satellites may impact ground users

With an increased reliance on ever more congested orbits, comes a higher risk of incident. But what are the risks on the ground, to those troops, that power network and to our ability to communicate with one another, and how are they affected by a degradation of service?

Satellites are clearly very essential cogs that keep our everyday lives turning. Any kind of degraded service can undoubtedly have knock on impacts to operators, customers or end users of applications on the ground.

Direct impacts from space debris are well understood and modelled and although there are many objects in orbit, the understanding of how these objects interact with one another has been the interest of research for many years. Second and third order impacts however are not well understood.

Second and third order impacts occur from the knock-on effect of the service a satellite provides from no longer being available or only available in a reduced state.

Impacts to transport networks could cause airlines, trains, roads, and shipping to slowly grind to a halt as location services would not function and remote vessels were left with no way to communicate. Energy networks may no longer be able to synchronise and distribute power across the national grid. Banking transactions being delayed, as institutions can no longer synchronise their trading platforms across large distances. Telecommunications network could start to faulter as satellite relays could no longer operate. All of this would very quickly start to add up to a significant economic and societal impact.

But as the world becomes increasingly interconnected – with the adoption of technologies such as IoT, 5G, and automation – the effects, and therefore the threats, of satellite failure become much more widespread and involved than we have seen in the past. Managing the impacts of this isn’t ever just a straightforward or minor fix. Instead, there are a vast array of downstream impacts on earth which could be extremely disruptive, if not outright dangerous.

For example, a disruption to communication signals could be as minor as causing a delayed text, or it could be as devastating as soldiers losing an essential line to intelligence during a high-stakes mission.

In fact, human safety is a key factor for many applications of satellite data. An autonomous vehicle constantly needs up-to-date information and low-latency connections. Military and naval troops are reliant on real-time communication. Weapons systems are often directed using satellite navigation.

How can we mitigate satellite hazards?

The risks to space assets themselves are often out of earthly control. Threats range from space debris to hazardous space weather. Nevertheless, monitoring satellite health is an important operational and strategic planning tool for key stakeholders, such as the European Space Operations Centre or defence groups.

Tracking satellite health, location and activity, as well as space conditions, ensures organisations always understand the safety of their assets. This provides intelligence which can help plan for potential risks in order to reduce their impact.

However, current tools are only able to assess first order effects. These solutions can monitor the in-space impacts of a meteor shower on satellites, but not what the consequences of this are for ground-users and applications.

With the way the world and the space landscape are changing, this is no longer enough. Satellite users – or organisations who would be impacted by satellite changes – need a solution that can connect the dots and demonstrate the downstream, on-earth impacts of satellite threats and help with the planning of appropriate mitigations.

SpaceAware Resilience

Riskaware have created a solution that addresses our reliance on satellite technology and plugs the intelligence gap for ground users. Our SpaceAware Resilience solution models the second and third order mission risks and effects of impacts to space assets, such as physical damage, electrical failures, or off mission scenarios.

Based on trusted and tested software, we have designed a solution which understands mission topography and the dependencies of an asset, enabling it to accurately model the downstream chain reaction of satellite impacts.

This is a completely unique solution which helps end-users, as well as key operational stakeholders, to better understand what the knock-on effects of satellite failure or damage may be, how likely these impacts are, and what actions are needed to respond to such an event. Users can now effectively plan to mitigate these risks in advance, to safeguard their assets and their activities.

LEARN MORE ABOUT SPACEAWARE

This capability will transform strategic planning, risk assessments, and decision-making for organisations in every sector, including:

  • Finance
  • Transport
  • Military / Defence
  • Telecommunication
  • Governments
  • Emergency services
  • Energy

For example, military commanders and soldiers in the front-line can use SpaceAware Resilience to perform a direct satellite impact risk assessment in order to prepare for all possible outcomes of a high-risk mission. In addition, European Space Operations Centre teams can communicate with their end users, providing essential intelligence about downstream impacts of an upcoming space event to help advanced planning.

Find out more about our novel SpaceAware solution and how you could benefit from satellite risk modelling – just get in touch.

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