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A Space War would be a Seriously Messy Business

Article written: 24 Mar , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015
by

What if there was a Pearl Harbour-like, pre-emptive strike against orbiting satellites? What if our quarrels on the ground spill into space? This is no longer a storyline for the next sci-fi movie, early warning systems are currently being developed to defend satellites, low Earth orbit satellites are being quickly and accurately shot down by the US and China, plus satellite technology is becoming more and more valuable as a strategic target. Like all wars there is a losing side, but in the event of a war in space, we’ll all be losers.

Its one thing watching a space battle in a sci-fi movie, it’s quite another to see it happen in reality. The critical thing about blowing stuff up in space is it produces a lot of mess and will leave a nasty legacy for future generations. Space debris is becoming a serious problem and should there be some form of orbital war, the debris produced may render space impassable.

As satellite technology becomes more and more important for communication and navigation, should a pre-emptive attack by an aggressive state be carried out, blowing up satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) will become a priority. Imagine if a nation lost its ability to communicate with its armed forces around the globe, or if strategic missiles were suddenly rendered useless, the state being attacked will be electronically blinded.

In an article posted on The Space Review by Taylor Dinerman, some important factors are addressed. Significantly, should there be a large-scale attack by a rogue nation on a US LEO satellite network; the disruption caused to military communications could be catastrophic. Indeed, the disruption caused to such a satellite network may be desirable enough for small nations to pursue anti-satellite technology.

But what if the worst does happen and satellites become the primary targets for “hot” wars down here on Earth? What can be done to reduce the amount of debris produced? After all, cutting down on space debris is an international concern, having a “scorched earth” policy in space would ultimately be self-defeating. Dinerman examines some possible solutions:

  • Develop highly destructive anti-satellite missiles. If the missiles carry warheads of sufficient destructive energy, satellites may be completely pulverized, rendering the mass of the orbiter into harmless bits of dust.
  • Build an early warning system and highly manoeuvrable military-design satellites. Expensive, in money and fuel, but worth it should there be a space war.

Regardless of whether there will be a future space battle in Earth orbit, it is quickly becoming the responsibility of the military and private companies of all nations to design and build critical satellites with some built-in ability to protect themselves from attack. And this isn’t only to maintain communications or guide ballistic missiles to targets; it is to safeguard mankind’s ability to access space by reducing the risk posed by the ever increasing population of space debris currently trapped in orbit.

Should the worst happen, and the space-ways become so heavily congested with debris, at least you’ll be able to track it with Google Earth!

Source: The Space Review: “Messy battlefields” by Taylor Dinerman


24 Responses

  1. MrBill says

    *Significantly, should there be a large-scale attack by a rogue nation on a US LEO satellite network; the disruption caused to military communications could be catastrophic*

    What nation would do something like this?

  2. Vagueofgodalming says

    Like all wars there is a losing side, but in the event of a war in space, we’ll all be losers.

    Actually, that tends to be the case with the old-fashioned surface-based kind, too.

  3. john d krull says

    TIMMMMBEEEERRRRR – LOVE THAT POST :}

    Why is it that we humans have to pretty much ruin everything we comw in contact w/?

    1st the planet – as technological (advances?) are made along in time. Putting the planet and as so eloquently pointed out above OYR SELVES on a possible path to destruction – but once we started going into space, we start cluttering THAT up to the (potential) point of bexoming unreachable w/o risk of personal DESTRUCTION.

    It’s easy ta say “let’s all just try to get along w/o getting into each others “face”

    But to me – the sooner we make a concerted effort of that, AND figure ways to clean up the planet AND LEO (and higher) and keeping it that way, WOULD BE ADVANCEMENT of the BEST kind! Tech-wise or otherwise

  4. Timber says

    Don’t fret, Barack will go talk nice to them, Hillary will sue them, Nancy Pelosi will blame the Republicans, and Harry Reid will continue to bluster, all bases covered

  5. joker says

    The good thing is that this time it will hit the states.
    Homeland attack.
    As Ian says: Pearl Harbor — again
    Fear it.
    Temble under that nightmare.
    LOTF is the key target to all terrorists, countries of concern and aliens.

    Do you feel scared already ? Fine.

    Next report is on how vulnerable you are in god’s own country. From outer space they wwill come.
    Everyone should and needs to have a gun and a paranoia.

    Do feel it coming

    stay tuned. soon in this filthy cinema called universe today.

  6. Bridh Hancock says

    As one also involved in community education, in this time before Space War I see a big role for C.E..
    As an Australian I see the U.S. as a menace; its government and military seem to be above the law and common decency.
    Surely space warfare is a gross waste of resources?
    The peoples of the northern hemisphere don’t appreciate the destruction of the central lands and oceans, and southern hemisphere. Our forests are felled; and plants and animals are going with our soils into extinction. All that so many of us think about is us. We belong to a biosphere that is out of whack, and soon will rid itself of us, unless…
    community education.
    Send this to … others, and a blessing will be yours in … time and from a … source. Ye’? But do it for common decency’s sake.

  7. Mr. LAME says

    “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhuuuuuupuuuuuuuu
    uuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhooooooopuuuuuuuuf
    huuuuuuuuuuuuuupufffffffffffff”
    – Darth Vader

  8. Dennis Baer says

    The former Soviet Union had a well developed LEO anti-satellite capability based on modified Progress freighters. The vehicle would home in on a target and then detonate a conventional high explosive charge at the point of closest approach. The shattered bits of the vehicle would disable the target satellite. Very messy. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that the current Commonwealth could dust off those old plans and build a few more of these nasty toys fairly quickly. I guess that makes this a three way arms race at this point, which doesn’t make me feel any better about it……

  9. tmayes1999 says

    sattalites have been threatened since the 1960s by the likes of the nike hercules anti-sattalite system since about the year 1962

  10. scottyhotty7599 says

    It’s probable that already(since Reagans proposal of Star Wars)defensive sattelite systems are in place.If so,this generated paranoia is a simple way to fund replacement of that ‘existing’ network with new and more efficient offensive and defensive sattelite systems.Let’s face it…we need to protect this nation and it’s people from it’s enemies…period.Anyone who thinks otherwise is a complete retard.I sincerly hope Congress supports this article’s ideas for sattelite safety.

  11. Victoria says

    Do we really need any weapon in space? NO! This is rediculous, I am so ashamed of the world. Can’t anyone think of better things to do? If there is life other places and we decide to put our missles in space, think of the consequences that will befall us all. WHAT ENEMIES? The one(s) that the Government says we have, who Iraq or Japan. I am so sick of this and if everyone just accepted each other as they are we could all unite.

  12. panic in the creampot says

    Thanks Ian for awaking the sleeping country.
    You understand the danger and use the right words to point to the disease.
    Too many people in this homeland that dont understand that all other countries want to attack us.

    Sooner or later there will be moves by Haiti, Greenland, Zanzibar, Kerguelen, Pitcairn, Antarctica
    In which direction ?

    We are surrounded by potential countries of concern on this planet. We cannot esacpe it is a sphere !
    What if they invade US homeland, pillage and maraud Las Vegas and Detroit.

    Only after such a catastrophy would happen, these wimps of peace movement will understand that we have to defend us. Now and everywhere.

    Have you all forgotten Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, Irak ?
    Ian knows what I mean.

  13. DannyBoy says

    As one not involved in CE, I also believe that CE will play an important role for all our human frailties.
    As an American, I see Australia as a menace.
    Its barby’s and Paul Hogan seem to be above the law and common decency.
    But I have to agree with “Timber”: Barack will take care of everything.

  14. Tareece says

    I see alot of idiocy in these comments and arguements spewed forth in them.
    1) The STAR WARS idea was stupid and impossible (they the opponents said)
    2) USA is the root of all evil
    3) Why can’t we all love each other and get along?
    ANSWERS to those 3 questions???
    1) It was possible and I’m glad for it.
    2) Bull$14+…The US of A has done MORE to civilize, feed, educate and care for this world population than anyoneelse could dream of doing. Look at all the foreign aid going to everyone…including our enemies in the ME…WHo responds to ALL of the natural disasters over the world??? WHO? US. And what do we get for those acts of kindness in the face of dire need? Face full of crap.
    3) Are u kidding me? You want peace? Go to Iran, go to palestine, go to Middle East countries, get out there where the bullets are and convince the no-goodnicks to lay their arms down. ohhh, thats right….that was tried in Iraq by some and they got taken hostage…yeah, effective.
    If one side doesn’t WANT to quit, it ain’t never gonna quit…no matter how bad you want it to.

  15. Astrofiend says

    “MrBill Says:
    March 24th, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    What nation would do something like this?”

    Are you serious? China or Russia spring to mind. Both already have the capability! That’s it you guys don’t hit their birds first, with the importance of being pre-emptive and all.

    Anyhow, I’m actually convinced that this will happen eventually. Humanity is simply incapable of not screwing up big-time. I think the only way we may avoid ruining space for ourselves is if precision high power laser-based weapons are used to fry satellites instead of the use of destructive impactors or explosive-based devices.

  16. Astrofiend says

    “Tareece Says:
    March 25th, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    I see alot of idiocy in these comments and arguements spewed forth in them.
    1) The STAR WARS idea was stupid and impossible (they the opponents said)”

    Ummm, just because you managed to hit one of your own satellites (with a precisely known orbit, weeks or months of planning, no evasion, no active stealth and no decoys deployed) does not mean that Star Wars will work in an actual combat scenario. If you’ve got 200 bleeding edge technology multi-warhead nukes heading through space towards your ass (with stealth, possible decoys, little or no advance launch warning, unknown or poorly defined trajectories etc. etc.) then you’re still rooted. And if your technology gets better and you can manage to take some down, a superpower nation will just keep flying them over until they get past.

    I’m not saying the program is a complete waste of time and money – just a rather big one.

  17. sfwrtr says

    A war head with sufficient power to pulverize the target? Even a nuclear weapon could not guarantee that! Part of the mass will always be simply shattered and accelerated.

    Speaking of nukes, wouldn’t it be a better strategy for a North Korea or Iran to launch a nuke to altitude and let EMF wipe out everything visible to the horizon? The Keep It Simple principle of space warfare…

  18. Tyler Durden says

    “Speaking of nukes, wouldn’t it be a better strategy for a North Korea or Iran to launch a nuke to altitude and let EMF wipe out everything visible to the horizon? The Keep It Simple principle of space warfare…”

    Iran doesn’t have any nukes, and North Korea can barely hit China with its missles, let alone make it into orbit.

  19. little guy says

    we need jesus

  20. dude says

    Dudes, you are trigger happy fascists and you obviously are proud of it.

    Make peace and love and understand that warmongering retards like you are parasites of the human culture.

    How do you know you are the joy of the world ? Because you bring coca cola and mcdonalds to the world ? Cause you bomb a country flat in order to exploit it afterwards for the profit of your companies ? because you speak of democracy that apparently is not even working at home ?

    reespeecctt brothers

  21. china boy says

    Hi all,

    you will learn that your agression wont help.
    China has the most resources, people that are easily exploited, much easier than the dumb masses in US.

    My chinese fellows will take over the political, economical lead within a few years.

    And you can be proud of your agressive, but unsuccesful history.
    Ian is speaking about Pearl Harbor to trigger your paranoia.
    This is ridiculous.
    We wont need a war to win.
    We just prevail, while you waste your money for toys in the sky.

  22. alphonso richardson says

    I find your lack of faith disturbing………
    Ready my ship!!

  23. little guy says

    yea i think we just need jesus

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