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What if all satellites stopped working?

Here is what might happen if we suddenly encountered a day without satellites…


There was nothing sudden. Planes did not fall out of the sky, the lights didn’t go out or the water supplies fail. At least, not at first. …

satsBut outside, the loss of global satellite communications was putting the world in danger. At a bunker somewhere in the United States, a pilot squadron lost contact with the armed drones they were flying over the Middle East. The failure of secure satellite communications systems left soldiers, ships and aircraft cut off from their commanders and vulnerable to attack. Without satellites, world leaders struggled to talk to each other to diffuse mounting global tensions. …

As presidents and prime ministers gathered their crisis teams, a new threat to global stability began to emerge: the loss of the Global Positioning System (GPS). …

Our infrastructure is held together by time – from time stamps on complex financial transactions to the protocols that hold the internet together. When the packets of data passing between computers get out of sync, the system starts to break down. Without accurate time, every network controlled by computers is at risk. Which means almost everything.

When the GPS signals stopped, back-up systems (employing accurate clocks on the ground) kicked in. But, within a few hours, time had started to slip. A fraction of a second in Europe, compared to the US; a tiny difference between India and Australia. The cloud began to fail, web searches became slower, the internet started to grind to a halt. The first power cuts came later in the evening, as transmission networks struggled to balance demand. At computerised water treatment works, engineers switched to manual back-up systems. In major cities, traffic lights and railway signals defaulted to red, bringing transport to a standstill. Mobile phone services, already patchy, finally failed in the late afternoon. …


By now, the full impact of what would become known as “the day without satellites” had become apparent. Communications, transport, power and computer systems had been severely disrupted. Global business had ground to a halt and governments were struggling to cope. Politicians were warned that food supply chains would soon break down. With fears of a breakdown in public order, governments introduced emergency measures.


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