By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies. You can find out more by following this link Accept & Close ›
Space Blog

Will volcanic ash affect satellite communications?

This week, an enormous cloud of volcanic ash is sweeping over Northern Europe, grounding aeroplanes and bringing the jet-setters to a standstill. One could be forgiven for taking it all for a hoax "“ there’s nothing for the common Earth dweller to see "“ but it’s bringing some businesses to a standstill as they struggle to make their meeting’s commitments. The reason this ash cloud cannot be seen is that the ash cloud is moving relatively high in the atmosphere, although meteorologists say there are signs some dust is settling at lower levels, which could begin affecting the health of those with respiratory conditions such as asthma. However the risk to aircrafts is very real as reported in the excellent BBC News online article: Icelandic volcanic ash alert grounds UK flights
NASA image by Robert Simmon, using ALI data from the EO-1 team. Instrument: EO-1 - ALI
But what about satellite communications? Could the dust in the atmosphere affect the control of space missions, your Sky receiver or GPS? Pete Garner, SSTL’s Radio Frequency (RF) team leader commented:
Satellite comms could easily be affected, but the impact would depend primarily on weather conditions, which would determine how the volcanic ash is dispersed in the air.
Additionally - it would also depend upon the robustness of the comms links in question. I know personally that my Sky signal degrades or even drops out periodically if there is heavy rain in our area and the volcanic ash could cause similar problems as the density and composition of the ash cloud would reduce the link margin and therefore affect the quality of any transmitted signals.
SSTL tracks and controls many satellites from its Guildford-based ground station, but Pete explained that their systems are designed to cope with environmental factors "“ even if no-one expects clouds of volcanic ash over the green hills of Surrey:
SSTL ensures its LEO [Low Earth Orbit] comms links are robust enough to cope with heavy rain in most cases by sizing the whole comms system appropriately for the mission including environmental factors. Making sure there is adequate additional margin in the link budget design is a key factor from the early stages of any mission to ensure SSTL can continually control the satellites and obtain the important image data when required.
In some cases there is also a level of redundancy. For example, Earth observation satellites such as Nigeria’s new NigeriaSat-2 satellite that is scheduled for launch in Q4 2010 have the facility to download images to multiple groundstations around the world. Some satellites can also be tracked and controlled from more than one groundstation when required.





16 April 20100 Comments1 Comment

Back to Blog

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
 Security code

About This Blog

SSTL's lowdown on cost effective space technology, small satellites, space science and interplanetary exploration.

Post Archive

October 2017(1)
May 2017(1)
January 2017(2)
October 2016(3)
September 2016(1)
July 2016(1)
June 2016(1)
April 2016(1)
March 2016(4)
February 2016(3)
December 2015(2)
November 2015(3)
October 2015(3)
July 2015(1)
May 2015(0)
May 2015(1)
April 2015(1)
March 2015(2)
February 2015(2)
January 2015(2)
December 2014(1)
November 2014(2)
October 2014(2)
September 2014(1)
July 2014(2)
June 2014(3)
May 2014(1)
April 2014(1)
March 2014(1)
February 2014(2)
January 2014(2)
November 2013(3)
October 2013(2)
September 2013(2)
July 2013(3)
June 2013(2)
May 2013(2)
April 2013(4)
March 2013(1)
February 2013(3)
January 2013(5)
December 2012(6)
November 2012(5)
October 2012(4)
September 2012(4)
August 2012(1)
July 2012(6)
June 2012(1)
May 2012(2)
April 2012(5)
March 2012(3)
February 2012(3)
January 2012(1)
December 2011(1)
November 2011(4)
October 2011(5)
September 2011(4)
August 2011(3)
July 2011(4)
June 2011(6)
May 2011(3)
April 2011(1)
March 2011(3)
February 2011(2)
January 2011(3)
December 2010(2)
November 2010(1)
October 2010(2)
September 2010(4)
August 2010(4)
July 2010(2)
June 2010(2)
May 2010(2)
April 2010(4)
March 2010(4)
February 2010(4)
January 2010(3)
December 2009(2)
November 2009(5)
October 2009(2)
September 2009(6)
August 2009(4)
July 2009(3)
June 2009(1)
May 2009(2)
March 2009(2)
February 2009(5)
January 2009(2)
December 2008(3)
November 2008(6)
October 2008(5)
September 2008(3)
August 2008(5)
June 2008(1)
May 2008(3)
April 2008(5)
March 2008(1)
February 2008(1)
January 2008(3)
December 2007(3)
November 2007(6)
October 2007(3)
September 2007(3)
August 2007(1)
July 2007(1)
June 2007(2)
May 2007(2)
April 2007(1)
January 2007(3)
December 2006(1)
September 2006(1)
May 2006(2)
January 2006(1)
December 2005(7)

Show/Hide All

If you like Space Blog, why not subscribe by RSS by clicking the subscribe button, or to recieve updates by email click the subscribe by email button.

*Comments Policy
SSTL reserves the right not to publish comments if they are deemed inappropriate.