The US Air Force wants to detonate plasma bombs in the upper atmosphere in a novel attempt to improve radio communications.
Normally, the Earth’s curvature stops ground-based radio signals moving more than 70km.
But engineers can bounce signals between charged particles in the ionosphere and the ground so that they can be detected from much greater distances.
At night, the ionosphere, which starts at about 60km up, contains more charged particles, meaning signals travel significantly further.
Now, the US Air Force wants to mimic this natural phenomenon by ejecting large volumes of ionised gas into the ionosphere using a fleet of tiny satellites, New Scientist reported.
In addition to improving radio comms, the Air Force also says the technology could diminish the impact of solar winds on GPS and be adapted to block communications from enemy satellites.
USAF has awarded contracts to three teams which will design a concept to develop the technology. The best will be funded and go into production.
The groups will have to find solutions to problems such as how to fit a plasma generator on to a cubesat that’s just 10cm wide and how to manage the plasma’s dispersion.
However, not everyone is convinced of the project’s viability. John Kline, a plasma expert at Research Support Instruments in Hopewell, New Jersey said: “These are really early-stage projects, representing the boundaries of plasma research into ionosphere modification.
“It may be an insurmountable challenge.”