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In the film Gravity (2013), the astronauts on STS-157 & the ISS lose communications with mission control in Houston, supposedly due to the chain reaction of debris collisions taking out communication satellites (according to CAPCOM just before comms are lost).

However, if a debris cascade such as this occurred in low Earth orbit (LEO), wouldn't it be extremely unlikely to affect satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GSO), at almost 10 times the altitude of the ISS's orbit? In which case, NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS / TDRSS) would still be functioning and communications with the Mission Control Center would still be possible.

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    $\begingroup$ You're safest to simply disregard anything you saw in that movie. It's like learning physics from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. $\endgroup$ – CoAstroGeek Mar 12 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @CoAstroGeek I'm well aware the film is not accurate in many regards (mainly to do with orbital mechanics). That doesn't mean everything will be inaccurate. Much of the physics of objects in microgravity appears accurate, for example. $\endgroup$ – binaryfunt Mar 12 at 17:03
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It would be possible, so long as the antennas remained intact. I don't think the Gravity situation would have been affected. And you are absolutely right that GEO satellites are unlikely to be affected in a Kessler Syndrome scenario, and as the main communication links are GEO, that seems very unlikely to be an issue.

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Yes

You're correct that it would be "extremely unlikely." One might suppose that debris could be kicked into an orbit that reaches GEO (even that is hard to fathom as the kind of collision that would produce the required energy would absolutely destroy the colliding objects). Even if this happened, the chances of disabling a network of communications satellites are vanishingly small. Most serious inquiries into Kessler-type situations tend to disregard MEO or GEO altogether. Also note that if this came to pass in LEO, it is likely that it would still be relatively easy to launch to MEO or GEO so even in the long term communications networks would be relatively unaffected.

That Movie Was... Something

I would imagine that most people hanging around Space SE found it hard to suspend disbelief while watching Gravity. Try to enjoy the aesthetic and pretend it's a made up setting that allows for a decent survival story. Don't try to make any connections to real spaceflight.

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