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Any terrorist group or rogue nation with access to intermediate-range rockets could mount an attack on military or civilian satellites, according to an article by Adrian Gheorghe, a critical infrastructures expert on the engineering faculty of Old Dominion University. The article has been the basis of news reports worldwide.

Widely available computer utilities and instructional material in textbooks could make the rocket attack possible to anyone with a modest infrastructure and proficiency with space vectors, the article asserts.

Gheorghe, the Batten Endowed Chair in Systems Engineering at ODU, wrote the article together with Dan Vamanu of the National Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering in Romania. It is published in the International Journal of Critical Infrastructures, spring 2007.

The authors make a case for placing deliberate satellite sabotage higher on the security agenda. They say the threat extends to satellites used for global positioning, weather monitoring, television broadcasts and other communications, as well as for strictly strategic purposes.

To build a minimalistic computer model showing that unsophisticated anti-satellite weaponry is a real possibility in near space, Gheorghe and Vamanu used a popular satellite tracking facility available on the Web, and ballistics information readily available in physics textbooks. The researchers say modest engineering capability and only a limited budget would be required for an attack.

"Any country in possession of intermediate-range rockets may mount a grotesquely unsophisticated attack on another's satellites, given the political short-sightedness that would be blind to a potentially devastating retaliation," the article states.

Keen on keeping the issue within proportions, the authors pointed out, however, that their short essay is only an emulation, in spirit, of the famous "Mathematical Games" column written by Martin Gardner in the Scientific American.

Gheorghe is editor of the International Journal of Critical Infrastructures and Vamanu is on the journal's editorial board. Dusan Theodorovic, professor of transport and traffic engineering at the University of Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia, and an emeritus faculty member at Virginia Tech, was guest editor of the spring issue.

One of the themes of the issue was degradation management, including sudden degradation of communications networks that might rely upon satellites.

This article was posted on: June 25, 2007

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