Washington (USA) In a new report, the Secure World Foundation warns of a trend aimed at destroying modern communication strategies. It seems there is an increasing interest in anti-satellite weapon systems.
Starlink from Elon Musk’s space company SpaceX enables high-speed Internet access even in remote areas. As the current Ukraine war shows, satellite internet also has military and strategic importance. It allows the Ukrainian population and army to continue communicating even where the Russian attackers have already been able to destroy cell phone and Internet connections. In the meantime, other armies have also expressed interest in Elon Musk Starlink.
It is not surprising that this arouses interest of the “opposite side”. The proof of successful use in Ukraine is only a catalyst, because the US non-governmental organization Secure World Foundation shows that interest in offensive space weapons that can disrupt space-based services has been growing sharply in the last years.
Satellites are interesting as military targets because the effects of their shutdown “could have global effects far beyond the military”. The use of satellite networks means that “large parts of the world economy and society are increasingly dependent on space applications”.
It would not even be necessary for an attacker to focus on all satellites. If you destroy just a few, their debris can be enough to destroy an incalculable number of other satellites. This type of domino effect will be all the more serious the more satellites that are used close to Earth.
Satellite technology is one that harbors opportunities and risks for both the attacker and the attacked. After all, space-based threats are also conceivable, according to the report. It was recently revealed that Chinese military scientists are developing anti-satellite technology to ward off perceived threats to their national sovereignty from SpaceX’s Starlink wireless broadband service. This could entail a whole new form of arms race.
The fact that Starlink is controversial in China has been known since the beginning of 2022. In January 2022, the Chinese government formally filed a complaint with the United Nations (UN) “Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space” (Copuos), because their Space Station “Heaven Palace” (Tianhe) had to initiate evasive maneuvers several times due to Starlink satellites.
In the same month, a technology was also tested with which China pushed an inactive satellite into a higher orbit. It is said to be a method for removing space debris. According to experts, the system could also be used to manipulate and destroy satellites or communication systems. It is therefore conceivable that China has already tested methods of satellite deactivation in space.
Although Starlink currently consists of a relatively small constellation of around 2,400 satellites, with the final configuration expected to be in the mid-five-digit range, the system has been able to prove its suitability for military use in Ukraine. The concerns of China and other countries seem understandable.
In fact, the United States is doing little to address these concerns. On the contrary, they are actively considering how privately operated space-based communications can meet the operational needs of the US military. This is the result of a US Senate hearing in March 2022, which dealt, among other things, with Russia’s efforts to block Starlink signals in Ukraine.
Appropriate funds are provided for in the US defense budget for the coming year. They are to be spent on “jamming-resistant satellite communications” as a counterpart to China’s and Russia’s pursuit of anti-satellite capabilities (ASAT).
Last year, Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon that created a dangerous situation around the International Space Station. Such tests are not entirely new. A de facto moratorium on anti-satellite weapons has been in effect since 1985. However, this has already been broken several times.
China shot down a satellite in 2007. In 2008, the US Navy shot down its own spy satellite with a missile. China has conducted at least seven ASAT tests since 2010, according to the Secure World Foundation. Russia is said to have conducted at least 14 such tests since 2014, and India two in 2019 alone. About 3,200 pieces of debris from these tests are said to still be in orbit.