Galileo Satellite System Disruption: Coincidence or Attack?

  • Each clock on each satellite failed at the same time.
  • The timing of outage coincided with the launch of Russia's "Spectr-RG" Spectrum-Rontgen-Gamma mission this past weekend.
  • It seems Russia is testing its ability to disrupt Western European systems.

Space war, or technical warfare is silently being waged all around us. On July 13th, 2019 (this past weekend) the European Union’s (EU’S) Galileo satellite went, or was taken offline. Galileo is owned by the collective European Union, managed and operated by the European Space Agency, and is used for nonmilitary, scientific, and civilian purposes.

A satellite navigation or satnav system is a system that uses satellites to provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning. It allows small electronic receivers to determine their location (longitude, latitude, and altitude/elevation) to high precision (within a few centimeters to metres) using time signals transmitted along a line of sight by radio from satellites. The system can be used for providing position, navigation or for tracking the position of something fitted with a receiver (satellite tracking). The signals also allow the electronic receiver to calculate the current local time to high precision, which allows time synchronisation.

The EU quickly followed the outage with an investigation and a subsequent report. The peculiar part is that the report states that “Satellite Affected All”– meaning the satellite outage carried a chain reaction that simultaneously affected other satellite clocks. Each clock on each satellite failed at the same time. In a July 15, the ESA claimed the issue is with the Precise Timing Facility (PTF).

The PTF is a key element of the Ground Mission Segment in the Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). It was developed in Germany and Italy. The Galileo System Time (GST) has two main functions: to provide a very stable time reference for navigation and metrological time keeping; to have an accurate computation of the orbit, including satellite clock information in the Galileo Navigation Message. The latter function is responsible for steering GST towards International Atomic Time (TAI), including providing a coordinated universal time dissemination service to the subscribers. Additional details of the system specifications and the origins can be found in the report by ION institute of Navigation “First Performance Results of the Galileo Precise Timing Facility” presented in the State of Washington in 2013 during 45th Annual Precise Time and time Interval Systems and Applications meeting.

The timing of outage coincided with the launch of Russia’s “Spectr-RG” Spectrum-Rontgen-Gamma mission this past weekend.  It was launched using a Proton-M rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch was plagued by the delays with multiple issues reported, from battery draining to issues with the booster.  The goal of the mission is to detect objects in the galaxy. It is equipped with two x-ray mirror telescopes (ART-XC, eROSITA). The latter has an energy range of 0.5 to 10 keV. The eROSITA telescope has seven identical Wolter-1 mirror modules. An individual module contains 54 nested mirror shells for sensitivity purposes. The Max Planck Institute of Extraterrestrial Physics developed it based on XMM-Newton pn-CCD technology. Additional specifications can be located on the ROSCOSMOS website. Below is an animated explanation of the eROSITA mission fulfillment and x-ray use.

It is common to have delays due to technical issues, but in this case it seems the coincidence of the Galileo system disruption could indicate the “delay reports” were used to hide the initialization procedure of the energy sources for the gamma lasers that are positioned on Spectr-RG. It has also been noted that in the region of Chernobyl the same weekend, a truck was found with very high radioactive levels on it. There are higher than normal radiation level in the region due to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the 1986. Nevertheless, radiation levels would have been decreased at the present time. The answer could be the testing shot from the Spectr-RG. Did the second shot disrupt the Galileo system synchronization?

Recently, there were human casualties on a Russian classified Losharik submarine that the government claimed was conducting an observatory mission under water. Yet, it was staffed with top tier defense personnel from Russia who lost their lives. There are additional claims by commercial merchants of the signal going out in the Black Sea. It seems Russia is testing its ability to disrupt Western European systems. The goal is to target economies where losses can be in the billions when satellite navigation systems are disrupted, due to the wide range of application.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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