SAN MATEO (KPIX) -- A near-disaster triggered by a Russian missile blowing up one of its own satellites has gotten a quick response from the U.S. The explosion created a debris field in space that not only could endanger the lives of astronauts, it could pose an even bigger threat.
Experts say our satellite systems, including GPS, could potentially be threatened by acts like this.
"Think of bullets and shrapnel faster than bullets that can pierce through all sorts of electronics," said Bryan Chan, co-founder of Xona Space Systems in San Mateo.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station received a wakeup call no one expected. Russia's anti-satellite missile test generated thousands of pieces of debris in lower orbit.
"We watch closely the capabilities Russia seems to want," said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
The U.S. economy can't operate without its GPS technology, a system of 31 satellites that makes the use of phones, credit card transactions, and turn-by-turn navigation in cars possible.
"It's a fantastic system. But it's got this big bulls-eye on it because it's the only system we've got," said GPS expert Marc Weiss.
It's a system that doesn't have a backup yet.
Xona Space Systems is developing the next generation of GPS systems, to be used for intelligent transportation.
"GPS at the moment is not in any immediate danger because with GPS these satellites are much farther away. They're actually in medium earth orbit," said Chan.
The current debris field may not threaten our GPS system now, but it's the advancement of anti-satellite technology that could one day be catastrophic.
"If a country can hit a satellite in lower orbit, what's stopping them from going a step further to take down a GPS satellite in medium orbit? It's a demonstration that we can do this," said Chan.
The last time something similar to this happened was in 2007 when China launched an anti-satellite missile that also created a large debris field.
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