Chinese military researchers have called for the development of a “hard kill” weapon to destroy Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system if it threatens China’s national security.
The researchers drew attention to this star links “huge potential for military applications” and the need for China to develop countermeasures to monitor, disable or even destroy the growing satellite megaconstellation. Their work was published in China’s Modern Defense Technology magazine last month. A translated copy of the paper is available here.
Starlink is a broadband satellite internet network developed by Musk’s SpaceX company that aims to bring internet access to customers anywhere in the world (as long as they have a Starlink satellite dish to connect to the satellites). Since launching the first Starlink satellites in 2019, SpaceX has launched more than 2,300 of them at low speeds.Earth orbit, and the company plans to send up to 42,000 satellites into space to form one gigantic megaconstellation.
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The Chinese researchers were particularly concerned about the constellation’s potential military capabilities, which they claim could be used to track hypersonic missiles; dramatically increase data transmission speeds of US drones and stealth fighter jets; or even ram and destroy Chinese satellites. China has already had a few near misses involving Starlink satellites written to the UN to lament last year that the country’s space station was forced to conduct contingency maneuvers to avoid “close encounters” with Starlink satellites in July and October 2021.
“A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be used to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation’s operating system,” said the researchers, led by Ren Yuanzhen, a researcher at the Beijing Institute of Positioning and Telecommunications, which involves the Strategic Support Force of the Chinese military, wrote in the newspaper. Hard and soft kill are the two categories of space weapons, with hard kill being weapons that physically hit their targets, like missiles, and soft kill including jamming and laser guns.
China already has several methods for disabling satellites. These include microwave jammers that can disrupt communications or fry electrical components; powerful lasers with millimeter resolution capable of capturing high-resolution images and blind satellite sensors; cyber weapons for hacking into satellite networks; and long-range anti-satellite missiles (ASAT) to destroy them, the US Department of Defense. But the researchers say these measures, which are effective against individual satellites, will not be enough to sink Starlink.
“The Starlink constellation represents a decentralized system. The confrontation is not about individual satellites, but about the entire system,” the researchers write. The researchers also outlined that attacking the Starlink system would require “some inexpensive, highly efficient measures.”
What exactly these measures could be remains unclear. The researchers suggest that China should develop its own spy satellites to better spy on Starlink; find new and improved ways to hack its systems; and develop more efficient methods of knocking out multiple satellites in the network. This could potentially mean the use of lasers, microwave weapons, or smaller satellites that could be used to swarm Starlink’s satellites. China is also trying to compete directly with Starlink by launching its own satellite network. Called Xing Wang or Starnet, it also aims to provide global Internet access to paying customers.
Starlink was previously used for military purposes. Just two days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov wrote on Twitter He urged Musk to deploy more Starlink satellites in the country. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on May 24, Fedorov said that SpaceX has so far delivered more than 12,000 Starlink satellite dishes to Ukraine, adding that “all critical infrastructure [in Ukraine] uses Starlink.”
Earlier this month Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that Russia had made multiple signal jamming and hacking attempts on Starlink. A note to Russian media from Dmitry Rogozin, director of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, also appeared to threaten Musk, accusing him of supplying “military communications equipment” to “fighters of the Nazi Azov Battalion” and claiming that Musk will held accountable . musk replied in writing on Twitter: “If I die under mysterious circumstances, it was nice to know you.”
China may be looking at alternative ways to counter Starlink as ASAT missiles create dangerous conditions for all nations operating in space. Explosions in orbit are dangerous not only in themselves, but also because of the thousands of pieces of debris they produce (ranging from the size of a basketball to the size of a grain of sand). This space shrapnel can seriously damage satellites. In November 2021, a Russian anti-satellite missile test blew up a defunct Soviet-era spy satellite in low-Earth orbit, creating a debris field of at least 1,632 pieces, forcing US astronauts aboard the International Space Station to settle into their docked capsule to hide, according to a US Space Force database of orbital objects.
The US, China, India and Russia have all conducted ASAT tests in the past and produced space debris in the process. The US announced a ban on further ASAT tests in April. In October 2021, Chinese scientists claimed to have found a way to avoid the debris problem with an explosive device that could be packed into a satellite’s exhaust nozzle to safely blow up the satellite without causing any mess and on a way that could be confused with an engine malfunction.
China has more than doubled its number of reconnaissance, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) satellites from 124 to 250 since 2019, according to a recent US Department of Defense report. As of early 2022, China’s total number of satellites, including those that are not ISRs, was 499, second only to the 2,944 in the United States, of which Starlink accounts for more than 2,300, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Originally published on Live Science.
https://www.livescience.com/china-plans-ways-destroy-starlink Chinese scientists call for plan to destroy Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites