Since the start of the space age, the list of countries, multinational entities and private commercial consortia that have demonstrated an ability to launch satellites into orbit—and thus potentially to shoot one down—has grown long. The chief worry among observers is that any effort by the U.S. to develop orbital weapons would drive the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation and others to join in a costly arms race in space.
Demonstrated Ground-Based Antisatellite Weapons
China, Russia, U.S.
Attained Geostationary Orbit (36,000 km above Earth)
European Space Agency (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K.), France, International Launch Services (Russia, U.S.), Japan, Sea Launch (Norway, Russia, U.S.)
Attained only Low Earth Orbit (between 100 and 2,000 km above Earth)
India, Israel, Pakistan, Ukraine
THE CASE AGAINST
1. All satellites and space-based weapons are likely to remain highly vulnerableto attack.
2. Developing advanced antisatellite weapons will probably trigger a new international arms race.
3. The cost of space weaponry is huge.
4. Testing and using space weapons could leave enormous quantities of debris in orbit that would threaten all satellites and crewed spacecraft.
When the Dust Won’t Clear
A military conflict in space could release an enveloping cloud of debris that could damage or destroy satellites and crewed spacecraft that circle the globe. At orbital speeds, even minuscule objects could deeply penetrate a vehicle and wreck vital equipment (far right). The results of a nuclear detonation in space could be even worse: the electromagnetic pulse and blast of charged particles would degrade all but the most heavily shielded electronics systems in orbit. Space war could push the world economy back into the 1950s, as communications, navigation, weather and other advanced satellite services would be rendered impractical for years to come.