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Anti-Satellite Weapons


Phi for All
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https://www.visualcapitalist.com/anti-satellite-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-satellite-weapons

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At any given moment, there are thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth for commercial, civil, strategic, and military reasons.

Due to the importance of certain satellites for national security, countries have developed anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons that can be used to incapacitate or destroy satellites in orbit.

While some ASAT weapons use non-destructive means like cyberattacks or lasers to impair satellites, the destructive types often rely on high-speed physical collision to shatter satellites, creating negative repercussions for the space environment.

 

Even testing these systems causes more debris in the orbits these satellites use. And their potential for destruction, as we rely more and more on satellite technology, makes them as much a concern as nuclear weapons. Do you think a ban can be implemented worldwide, or is it going to take some kind of horrendous accident that fills the skies above our heads with all kinds of nasty? Should we be weaponizing space?

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Most of this low orbit space debris will eventually come down in uncontrolled trajectories.
Quite a few have already; most break up and are small enough to burn up on re-entry, others, like the recent Chinese one pose quite a danger if they come down over inhabited landmasses.
These anti-satellite weapons could be helpful in breaking satellites up into smaller pieces, so that they pose little or no danger.
Although major players, like the US, China, and Russia are reluctant to use them for fear of giving away capability information.

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We already have an indication of a what a kinetic weapon will do to the space environment

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_anti-satellite_missile_test

The 2007 Chinese ASAT test was the largest creation of space debris in history, with more than 2,000 pieces of trackable size (golf ball size and larger) officially catalogued in the immediate aftermath, and an estimated 150,000 debris particles.[27][28]As of October 2016, a total of 3,438 pieces of debris had been detected, with 571 decayed and 2,867 still in orbit nine years after the incident.[29]

The US withdrawal from the ABM treaty paved the way. By doing so, the US signaled its intent to work on a such systems. It was silly to think that nobody would do so. You can argue that nations would do so in secret, but absent testing, there are limits to how well one can proceed.

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Why does someone need to actually hit a satellite to test an anti-satelite weapon? You simply imagine a point in space and make your weapon fly through that point at certain exact time - this is a hit.

Hitting an actual satellite seems more like an exhibition to me.

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13 hours ago, MigL said:

These anti-satellite weapons could be helpful in breaking satellites up into smaller pieces, so that they pose little or no danger.

I don't think that follows. Even the smallest pieces pose a threat, because of the huge speeds that they orbit at. Even dust grains are said to be a hazard.

If you could invent an anti-satellite weapon that shoved the satellite into a lower orbit, making it burn up in a reasonably short time, that would be ideal. 

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16 hours ago, Phi for All said:

 Do you think a ban can be implemented worldwide

Maybe, but such agreements generally do not hold in case of war.

Just brainstorming: maybe we can calculate the critical satellite density that can cause the destructive chain-reaction, then make an agreement to keep the density lower.

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18 hours ago, Phi for All said:

https://www.visualcapitalist.com/anti-satellite-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-satellite-weapons

Even testing these systems causes more debris in the orbits these satellites use. And their potential for destruction, as we rely more and more on satellite technology, makes them as much a concern as nuclear weapons. Do you think a ban can be implemented worldwide, or is it going to take some kind of horrendous accident that fills the skies above our heads with all kinds of nasty? Should we be weaponizing space?

Partial limits on destructive (ballistic) testing would make as much sense as partial bans on pedophile rape. There is no ambiguity on the immense danger of satellite debris.  Or the existential threat to a modern tech society if satellites are taken out.  Seems to me the nations have to come together on this and treat such weapons as on a par with nerve gas, nukes, or engineered pathogens.  New START should be modified to include non-nukes, and ASW added to the menu, with an international UN monitoring team assigned to enforce a ban.  Think about this: what if, unilaterally, a nuclear power develops an excellent laser system that not only kills satellites but also can reliably fry an ICBM?  Not necessarily a big leap from the former to the latter.

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2 hours ago, Danijel Gorupec said:

Why does someone need to actually hit a satellite to test an anti-satelite weapon? You simply imagine a point in space and make your weapon fly through that point at certain exact time - this is a hit.

Hitting an actual satellite seems more like an exhibition to me.

I told my tennis coach that I didn't really need to practice volleying balls, and could just swing where I imagine the ball is going to be. 

Using my method I rapidly became a professional tennis player!

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3 hours ago, Danijel Gorupec said:

Why does someone need to actually hit a satellite to test an anti-satelite weapon? You simply imagine a point in space and make your weapon fly through that point at certain exact time - this is a hit.

Hitting an actual satellite seems more like an exhibition to me.

Satellites are not at a fixed point in space. You're hitting a moving target. Some might have maneuvering rockets, which could be employed for evasion.

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Sounds like we are risking the Kessler syndrome by using anti satellite weapons. This is a real danger and could deny human access to space for a long period of time. 

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome

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Aggressive space activities without adequate safeguards could significantly shorten the time between collisions and produce an intolerable hazard to future spacecraft. Some of the most environmentally dangerous activities in space include large constellations such as those initially proposed by the Strategic Defense Initiative in the mid-1980s, large structures such as those considered in the late-1970s for building solar power stations in Earth orbit, and anti-satellite warfare using systems tested by the USSR, the US, and China over the past 30 years. Such aggressive activities could set up a situation where a single satellite failure could lead to cascading failures of many satellites in a period much shorter than years.[4]

The Kessler syndrome is troublesome because of the domino effect and feedback runaway wherein impacts between objects of sizable mass spall off debris from the force of the collision. The fragments can then hit other objects, producing even more space debris: if a large enough collision or explosion were to occur, such as between a space station and a defunct satellite, or as the result of hostile actions in space, then the resulting debris cascade could make prospects for long-term viability of satellites in particular low Earth orbits extremely low.[25][26] However, even a catastrophic Kessler scenario at LEO would pose minimal risk for launches continuing past LEO, or satellites travelling at medium Earth orbit (MEO) or geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The catastrophic scenarios predict an increase in the number of collisions per year, as opposed to a physically impassable barrier to space exploration that occurs in higher orbits.[citation needed]

 

I may have overstated the danger but the effect is real. 

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1 hour ago, swansont said:

Satellites are not at a fixed point in space. You're hitting a moving target. Some might have maneuvering rockets, which could be employed for evasion.

Did they actually test this? My understanding was that all test hits were performed on non-functional satellites that had predictable trajectories - and if the weapon is designed to target evasion-capable satellite, then they tested shit.

Are you saying that the weapon has a local sensing system that locks it on the satellite? I was under impression that all guidance is made from Earth. (Because if the weapon does not have any local sensing, then you can still play the game with an 'imagined evasion-capable satellite'.)

EDIT: just occurred to me that even if local sensing is employed, they could still easily reprogram the software to miss 'five yards to the left'... and confirm the expected result using the all-mighty earth-based tracking systems.

Edited by Danijel Gorupec
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5 hours ago, mistermack said:

I don't think that follows. Even the smallest pieces pose a threat, because of the huge speeds that they orbit at. Even dust grains are said to be a hazard.

I was thinking about breaking them up before they re-enter the atmosphere, as the recent Chinese booster did.
As long as they stay in orbit they pose little danger, as their position is fairly predictable, but when a large mass re-enters the atmosphere and can't burn up, whether it will fall on your head is pretty much a lottery.

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7 hours ago, mistermack said:

I don't think that follows. Even the smallest pieces pose a threat, because of the huge speeds that they orbit at. Even dust grains are said to be a hazard.

 

Do most satellites orbit in roughly the same direction? And if that is true, are the relative differences in velocity between dust grains and satellites significant for those that do follow similar orbits? 

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2 hours ago, MigL said:

I was thinking about breaking them up before they re-enter the atmosphere, as the recent Chinese booster did.
As long as they stay in orbit they pose little danger, as their position is fairly predictable, but when a large mass re-enters the atmosphere and can't burn up, whether it will fall on your head is pretty much a lottery.

Oh right. They could theoretically do a job there, although I doubt that it would be cost effective, but it would be a way of testing the weapon. 

If a satellite is due to fall from space though, I'm prepared to take my chances. The stupid things we did playing chicken as kids make me shudder when I think of them, so the billions to one odds of getting wiped out by a bit of satellite pale in comparison.. 

10 minutes ago, zapatos said:

Do most satellites orbit in roughly the same direction? And if that is true, are the relative differences in velocity between dust grains and satellites significant for those that do follow similar orbits? 

I wondered that. I don't think they do though, judging by the outcry when China zapped their satellite, and the research money going into cleanup technology.

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21 hours ago, Danijel Gorupec said:

Did they actually test this? My understanding was that all test hits were performed on non-functional satellites that had predictable trajectories - and if the weapon is designed to target evasion-capable satellite, then they tested shit.

Predictable trajectory ≠ a fixed point in space

21 hours ago, Danijel Gorupec said:

Are you saying that the weapon has a local sensing system that locks it on the satellite? I was under impression that all guidance is made from Earth. (Because if the weapon does not have any local sensing, then you can still play the game with an 'imagined evasion-capable satellite'.)

EDIT: just occurred to me that even if local sensing is employed, they could still easily reprogram the software to miss 'five yards to the left'... and confirm the expected result using the all-mighty earth-based tracking systems.

I don’t know the details. I can only offer what seems reasonable based on available information.

A predictable trajectory is great, but satellites move fast, so you need to know what the missile’s trajectory will be. Not much tolerance for variation. For a satellite moving say 7 km/s, a one ms delay or advance in arrival means a 7m difference in position which probably means a miss for a kinetic weapon. Is there that kind of precision in thrust that you can repeatedly get the speed the same to the necessary precision?

Some satellites can be re-positioned, so they have this capability. You’d have to be foolish not to take this into account. We have missile technology that works independently from ground stations.

Ground station signals could potentially be jammed.

 

All things to consider 

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22 hours ago, MigL said:

I was thinking about breaking them up before they re-enter the atmosphere, as the recent Chinese booster did.
As long as they stay in orbit they pose little danger, as their position is fairly predictable, but when a large mass re-enters the atmosphere and can't burn up, whether it will fall on your head is pretty much a lottery.

Are you talking about intentional deorbits or accidental? 

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2 hours ago, Moontanman said:

Are you talking about intentional deorbits or accidental? 

Either.

"ASATs were generally given low priority until 1982, when information about a successful USSR program became widely known in the west. A "crash program" followed, which developed into the Vought ASM-135 ASAT, based on the AGM-69 SRAM with an Altair upper stage. The system was carried on a modified F-15 Eagle that carried the missile directly under the central line of the plane. The F-15's guidance system was modified for the mission and provided new directional cuing through the pilot's head-up display, and allowed for mid-course updates via a data link. The first launch of the new anti-satellite missile took place in January 1984. The first, and only, successful interception was on 13 September 1985. The F-15 took off from Edwards Air Force Base, climbed to 11613 m (38100 ft)[8] and vertically launched the missile at the Solwind P78-1, a US gamma ray spectroscopy satellite orbiting at 555 km (345 mi), which was launched in 1979.[9] The last piece of debris from the destruction of Solwind P78-1, catalogued as COSPAR 1979-017GX, SATCAT 16564, deorbited 9 May 2004. Although successful, the program was cancelled in 1988.

On 21 February 2008, the US Navy destroyed the malfunctioning US spy satellite USA-193 using a ship-fired RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 about 247 km (153 mi) above the Pacific Ocean. That test produced 174 pieces of orbital debris large enough to detect that were cataloged by the US military.[10] While most of the debris re-entered the Earth's atmosphere within a few months, a few pieces lasted slightly longer because they were thrown into higher orbits. The final piece of detectable USA-193 debris re-entered on 28 October 2009."

From        Anti-satellite weapon - Wikipedia

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3 hours ago, MigL said:

Either.

"ASATs were generally given low priority until 1982, when information about a successful USSR program became widely known in the west. A "crash program" followed, which developed into the Vought ASM-135 ASAT, based on the AGM-69 SRAM with an Altair upper stage. The system was carried on a modified F-15 Eagle that carried the missile directly under the central line of the plane. The F-15's guidance system was modified for the mission and provided new directional cuing through the pilot's head-up display, and allowed for mid-course updates via a data link. The first launch of the new anti-satellite missile took place in January 1984. The first, and only, successful interception was on 13 September 1985. The F-15 took off from Edwards Air Force Base, climbed to 11613 m (38100 ft)[8] and vertically launched the missile at the Solwind P78-1, a US gamma ray spectroscopy satellite orbiting at 555 km (345 mi), which was launched in 1979.[9] The last piece of debris from the destruction of Solwind P78-1, catalogued as COSPAR 1979-017GX, SATCAT 16564, deorbited 9 May 2004. Although successful, the program was cancelled in 1988.

On 21 February 2008, the US Navy destroyed the malfunctioning US spy satellite USA-193 using a ship-fired RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 about 247 km (153 mi) above the Pacific Ocean. That test produced 174 pieces of orbital debris large enough to detect that were cataloged by the US military.[10] While most of the debris re-entered the Earth's atmosphere within a few months, a few pieces lasted slightly longer because they were thrown into higher orbits. The final piece of detectable USA-193 debris re-entered on 28 October 2009."

From        Anti-satellite weapon - Wikipedia

Intentionally deorbited satellites are often steered into this part of the ocean called  spacecraft cemetery

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15 hours ago, MigL said:

Wikipedia : " The final piece of detectable USA-193 debris re-entered on 28 October 2009."

The important word there is detectable though. What fraction of the debris is detectable? It depends on the way it breaks up I guess. I would have let the thing re-enter in one piece, and take the minute risk of it causing damage when it falls. In the future, they could try to design satellites with break-up in mind, so that they disintegrate into parts small enough to burn up completely. 

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https://www.space.com/38984-tiny-space-debris-sensor-to-station.html

The [space-based] sensor can detect pieces of space debris that are less than 0.039 inches (1 mm) wide. The smallest objects the instrument can detect are 0.0019 inches (0.05 mm) wide. Ground sensors can detect pieces of debris that are larger than about 4 inches(10 cm) wide. 

That was when it was active, and attached to the ISS, so detecting particles near the ISS

https://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/orbitaldebris2019/orbital2019paper/pdf/6026.pdf

Unfortunately, shortly after the beginning of operations, the SDS began experiencing anomalous behavior, and after approximately 26 days, became unresponsive. 

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