back to article ATTACK of the ZOMBIE SATELLITE: Run radio hams, run!

A satellite launched by the US military has gone rogue and is causing interference to radio hams across Europe. The US Navy’s PCSat NO-44, which is only supposed to transmit over the US, is now drowning out European amateurs and the USN doesn’t know what to do about it. Former head of information security at BT and keen radio …

  1. John Robson Silver badge

    Big torch...

    to keep it online long enough to reprogram?

  2. Elmer Phud

    'kin typical

    Some Merkin goes on holiday and spoils it for everyone by SHOUTING ALL THE TIME

    1. Dan Paul

      Re: 'kin typical

      You know, it gets rather tiresome when you and others make sweeping generalizations about Americans that could certainly be applied to every Brit tourist I ever heard. Loudly complaining about how the food here is different than that at home is a bit of an oxymoron isn't it? It's going to be different, it's another country. I think the behavior even made it into a Monty Python sketch. And yes before some commentard mentions it, I already know there are some Americans that deserve the label.

      How about we put the gratuitous disrespect to pasture? Or do you just prefer being a snarky dick?

      This world would be a lot further ahead if instead of complaining about the differences, we started celebrating the similarities. After all, we are all related in some way whether you like it or not, and the US is more of a cultural melting pot than Europe ever will be. Every family here started over there, someplace.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 'kin typical

        See, not only do they shout a lot, they've got no sense of humour.

        1. Dan Paul

          Re: 'kin typical

          Humor is a relative word. Looks like détente is not on the table. On this website humor is generally noted by use of the joke icon, but you can't be an anonymous snarky dick and use any icons.

          1. elDog

            Re: 'kin typical

            Oooh. You found me out - An Anomyous Snarky Dick (without icons). Time to move on to another type of snarky then.

      2. Cynic_999

        Re: 'kin typical


        Every family here started over there, someplace.


        I thought there were still a few native American families left in the US, albeit subjected to an apartheid policy and so mostly out of sight, but still considered to be human, surely?

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: 'kin typical

          I damn well hope so - my aunt (thoroughly European) is married to a full-blood Navajo in Arizona...

        2. Charles Manning

          Re: 'kin typical

          " albeit subjected to an apartheid policy"

          To be fair, they are not subject to an apartheid policy.

          They are free to choose it for themselves and free to pack it in whenever they want.

      3. Stoneshop

        Re: 'kin typical

        we started celebrating the similarities.

        Like Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca Cola? The NSA is called differently here, but they act the same.

        You go celebrate if you want. I won't.

      4. Charles Manning

        Re: 'kin typical

        Mr Dan Paul

        There is one thing that does unite the world and allow us to see past our differences:

        Our dislike of USAian attitude to the rest of the world.

        Thank you for giving us that. It is the biggest USAian contibution to peace and goodwill between men.

      5. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: 'kin typical

        This world would be a lot further ahead if instead of complaining about the differences

        I celebrate my nation's differences from the US of A, thankyouverymuch.

      6. TAJW

        Re: 'kin typical

        Actually, my wife's family came the other way, since she is Native American. But I do agree with you on the food part. Having been in the U.K. several times, I've completely had my fill of "bangers and mash" ... nothing like the sausage links and hash browns we have in the U.S.

  3. My-Handle

    Out of control?

    I admit, I know almost nothing about the satellite in question, but I assume it has some kind of attitude control to keep it's panels pointing towards the sun. How about programming it to turn around so it's panels were edge-on? Satellite powers down, panels never get enough sunlight to boot the mouthy sod back up again.

    Of course the satellite operators would have thought of this solution if it were as easy as that, but I'd be interested in finding out why it wouldn't work.

    1. Sven Coenye

      Re: Out of control?

      It is just a box covered with solar panels. There is nothing to point away from the sun.

      Interestingly, the operators blame the problem on the users. Some are apparently using it when its callsign indicates it in reset mode and that is what causes the interference.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Out of control?

      Wouldn't work anyway; let's assume that a sticky-out solar panel array was indeeed involved. So you manage to get it aligned edge on to the sun now - in 3 months time (as the Earth has gone a quarter of the way around the sun) teh panels are back in full sunshine again. So you try setting a very slow rotation such that the panels stay edge-on to the sun. The trouble there is that the thing is in a low enough orbit to deorbit eventually, and atmospheric drag will affect that thing and cause twisting forces.

  4. Michael Hawkes


    Maybe they should have called it the "Chumbawamba-sat"

    It gets knocked down / It gets up again / You're never gonna keep it down

    1. BongoJoe

      Re: Earworm

      That was... bloody awful.

      Have an upvote.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Should Musk....

    ... develop a micro thruster that can be deployed on the next mission to a vaguely similar orbit?

    Forcefully deorbit but without most of the launch cost...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    can we use it for target practice?

    or would the US military destroying this bird turn into some anti-American conspiracy screed?

    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: can we use it for target practice?

      You can do what some Chinese general did, use the untested piece of expensive hardware he had, that "could never be used aggressively", to target and blow up a defunct Chinese satellite, increasing the total number of orbiting pieces of junk by 50% in one go. Turned into an anti-everything screen that'n. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

      You want to de-orbit the *whole* satellite without re-orbiting all its constituent parts.

      But... that same technology would then be a !!threat!!! to everyone, they would say. But never-aggressive generals don't worry about that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: can we use it for target practice?

      The limited amount of harm this satellite is causing is not worth generating a bunch of orbital debris that will cause problems for years.

      Maybe NASA should offer a $10 million prize to anyone who can send up a rocket to snag it and drag it into the atmosphere to burn up and/or into the ocean? Get Branson, Musk and Carmack thinking about how to do it.

      They probably wouldn't though, because not just the US, but the Chinese and the Russians would be pretty freaked out by a private company able to perform this type of snag and drag (pretty sure all three countries could do this without much difficulty, though they aren't likely to advertise the fact)

      1. Stoneshop
        Black Helicopters

        Re: can we use it for target practice?

        The limited amount of harm this satellite is causing is not worth generating a bunch of orbital debris that will cause problems for years.

        Then it's a good thing it's not hovering over Hillview, Kentucky.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: can we use it for target practice?

        "Maybe NASA should offer a $10 million prize to anyone who can send up a rocket to snag it and drag it into the atmosphere to burn up and/or into the ocean? Get Branson, Musk and Carmack thinking about how to do it.

        I don't know about a prize, but plenty of people are thinking about it and trials of at least one system are due in the next few years.

      3. PNGuinn

        Special Projects Bureau??

        "Maybe NASA should offer a $10 million prize to anyone who can send up a rocket to snag it and drag it into the atmosphere to burn up and/or into the ocean?"

        C'mon, Lester!

      4. Graham Marsden

        @DougS - Re: can we use it for target practice?

        > Maybe NASA should offer a $10 million prize

        I have a Mr Blofeld on the line...

  7. casaloco

    Blowing it up sounds great...

    ...because none of us have seen the film "gravity".

    1. DropBear

      Re: Blowing it up sounds great...

      because none of us have seen the film veritable insult to any sane mind and / or science that is the thoroughly ludicrous abomination called "gravity". TFTFY...

      1. cray74

        Re: Blowing it up sounds great...

        "because none of us have seen the veritable insult to any sane mind and / or science that is the thoroughly ludicrous abomination called "gravity". TFTFY..."

        Gravity exaggerated the speed of the Kessler syndrome and ignored orbital mechanics for 3 objects in low orbit. Oh, and Sandra Bullock wore underwear instead of liquid cooling long johns. Teh horror.

        Real astronauts like Buzz Aldrin gave enthusiastic reviews of Gravity. Astronauts who worked on Hubble enthused at seeing every tool and item of kit they used hanging from the end of Canadarm with Bullock, and spoke well of the realism of the views from orbit in the movie. But armchair astronauts and pop culture icons like Neil Degrasse Tyson nitpicked Gravity, so it's dismissed for its scientific mistakes.

        Meanwhile, a movie like Interstellar that managed to get a black hole partly correct (dumbed down for the masses) and otherwise ran like a big budget Star Trek episode with fuel-less runabout flyers, incorrect representations of tides, bad centripetal gravity, solid clouds, and terrible use of cross-time communication...that got accolades because some websites wanked themselves over its half-correct black hole. Oh, and Interstellar might be shown in British science class rooms.

        It's no wonder that Pamela Lee can influence opinions about vaccines. Everybody loves to listen to talking heads and parrot their "wisdom."

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Blowing it up sounds great...

        If you want scrupulously correct physics in your space films, go tune into NASA TV, but personally even I get bored of it after a day or two.

        For entertainment, corners must be cut, if you don't like that then my I suggest you stick to facts and stear well clear of fiction.

  8. ilmari

    I assume they mean that the satellite's batteries have now failed, which makes it go dead in darkness. In light, the panels provide ample power, and the satellite computer boots up again.

    Then, instead of running chkdsk/fsck, it broadcasts a "Help Help! Systems failing!" call on the same frequency and protocol as aprs, the big amateur radio mesh network. And since the satellite is in space, its call is picked up by many many amateur radio ground stations, which presumably automatically all start relaying the message towards its destination, clogging up the frequency even more.

    On the topic of Mayday calls from Space, at one point during a fire onboard the Mir space station, the crew had no contact with flight control. Half the crew started preparing the Soyuz for emergency evac, half started firefighting, which quite the challenge, as the fire extinguishers work quite well as rockets, pushing the user away tumbling. If they had ended up forced to abandon the station, their only means of communication at that time was their amateur radio kit. They'd have to hope that as they passed over America, some american Ham would pick up their call, and figure out how to get in touch with the russian space agency and tell them to look for their cosmonauts on the ground instead of in space.

    1. Paul 77

      Just remember the US is not the only place with radio amateurs who chat with people in orbit :-)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



    1. Martin Summers

      Re: Well

      Yeah but how on earth would we point a shark at it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well

        Use our secret weather controllers to create a Sharknado.

  10. DubyaG

    ISS anyone?

    Couldn't they talk to it through the ISS, or is the time window just too short?

    1. hughca

      Re: ISS anyone?

      PCsat is in a polar orbit, the ISS is in a completely different orbit. Without doing any maths, I would guess that an observer on the ground underneath PCsat's groundtrack would have a much longer window of communication than a 'naut on the station.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "The spectrum it interferes with is around 15 KHz"

    Not quite, El Reg. It is 15kHz of bandwidth at 144390kHz :)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reg to the Rescue

    In all seriousness, Reg nailed it - this is a perfect mission to test the X-37B space plane capabilities.

    1. Nunyabiznes

      Re: Reg to the Rescue

      But that would let the secret out! Can't have everyone knowing that we have a super secret space lorry and that it can change orbits.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't think it is a big deal. The vast amount of electromagnetic smog created by switch mode power supplies is far worse for ham radio. And in the UK you have the special gift of internet transmitted over the power grid. Actually you could hack a lot of UK internet traffic with some simple monitoring equipment near a pylon, now that you mention it.

  14. FrankAlphaXII

    Ask the chinese?

    Uh no. We're not going to be asking China to do something we don't want them doing, ASAT is one of those things we (and the rest of the world) really don't need to be doing with any kind of frequency.

    Especially not when its something the Navy itself can do if they have to shoot it down.

    An Aegis-equipped cruiser or destroyer can shoot the damned thing down with a Standard Missile 3, its just where do we do it? It might be a real issue to destroy this thing if there are other satellites, especially those owned by other countries, sharing the same orbit, and there probably are. The Army could also probably bring it down with the Missiles in Alaska or a THAAD battery, but I doubt the Navy would let them.

    The X-37B's actually the better idea, if (and that's a big damned if) its capable of doing anything to fix or disable it. The Air Force won't say what it can do so no one really knows. And the people who do know are in a Top Secret - Secure Compartmented Intelligence measured Special Access Program that probably has an SI and COMINT caveat. They're probably not gonna say.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The interference will be minimal

    Being a Dutch HAM radio operator I can tell you the interference HAM's will have from this satellite will be quite minimal.

    First of all to be able to receive the rather weak signals from this tiny sat, you need directional high gain antennes pointing directly at the satellite when it comes over the horizon tracking the satellites pass.

    Earth HAM stations, either fixed at home as base station, or mobile from a vehicle that use APRS are not looking at the satellite at all. They use vertical omni directional antennes for APRS. So when the satellite passes overhead they won't be able to receive the sat very well. When the satellite comes just over the horizon and just before it goes over the horizon again there is a short moment that both antennes see one and other. But being a low powered sat the distance is then at its max between the earth station and the satellite that interference levels will be quit minimal.

    It will for sure not disrupt any earth bound HAM traffic.

  16. Kibble 2


    A much simpler method of disabling a satellite would be to compromise the solar cells. Simply spraying them with black paint would do the trick. Now would it be possible to fit the X-37B with a tank of black paint and move it to orbit just in front of the errant satellite?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    just tune some of the many space deployed hpm dew vircators to around two-metres and light-up PCSat NO-44 with a few front-door coupled pulses of RF (with better than inverse-square-law deposition due UV frikkin laser painting) that'll take out the TX semiconductors

    except of course someone probably bans the weaponisation of space, ha!

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