US Wants to Defend Satellites From Laser Attack

Article written: 29 May , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

So what do you do if someone fires a powerful laser at your satellite? The optics on the satellite will probably be fried, so you couldn’t see who did it. The US military appears to be concerned that this possibility may become a reality. As the US depends more and more on space for communications, GPS and military applications, the US government has announced the development of a defence method intended to detect a ground-based laser attack on a satellite, and pin point the laser’s location. However, some experts have warned against taking this kind of action as there is little evidence other nations are developing anti-satellite laser technology. Also, it may be defence system but it could push further development of the militarization of space…

Satellites can be a pretty vulnerable technology. As showcased by both China and the US in the last year, satellites are well within the scope for anti-satellite missiles. Although both nations contest that the satellite shoot downs were not intended to demonstrate their military prowess in space, many observers have become concerned about the acceleration of research into space weaponry. Pentagon officials have even voiced their concern that their spy satellites may fall fowl of “illumination” by Chinese ground-based lasers. There is however little evidence that China is pursuing this technology.

Even so, the US Air Force has called on contractors to develop a system that will “sense and attribute” a laser attack. This means the technology must have the ability to sense laser emission aimed at a satellite and attribute it to a location on the surface. This development program has become known as Self Awareness/Space Situation Awareness (SASSA). The SASSA system will need to be sensitive to a wide range of laser and radio wavelengths, but the tough part will be to accurately pin-point where the laser is being fired from.

This month, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing have presented their proposals for the SASSA system and the Air Force hopes to fly the winning bid on board an experimental satellite (TacSat-5) in 2011.

Although this is a defensive measure, military analysts are worried that the SASSA could increase tensions around the use of space weapons. As Rob Hewson, analyst and editor for Jane’s Air Launched Weapons, points out, “It’s a defensive step but one that assumes an attack, it is a baby step in the preparation for fighting in space.”

Source: New Scientist Tech


17 Responses

  1. Member

    To David: Brilliant! You’re totally on the ball with this one. SASSA really doesn’t cut it for me either – SHAFTED on the other hand is perfect. We just have to think up what “SHAFTED” could mean…

    “Satellite-Handy Armed and Feared Targeted Defences”? I actually like that one!

    Seriously though, this does look like downward turn for keeping weaponry out of space. As soon as I read that the Air Force had gotten defence contractors involved I realized this juganaut has only just begun rolling…

  2. joker says

    😆

    there was a game in the 80s called missile command.

    http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=761

  3. Frank Glover says

    What we really need, of course, are shields/force fields…

    And Missile Command permitted an effect (causing incoming warheads to themselves detonate when they enter the defending warhead’s ‘fireball’) that could help you play more effectively, but wouldn’t work in the real world.

  4. David says

    “So what do you do if someone fires a powerful laser at your satellite? The optics on the satellite will probably be fried, so you couldn’t see who did it. The US military appears to be concerned that this possibility may become a reality.”
    -Of course the military is concerned. This is not anything to do with the advancement of meaningful science but rather national defense. Nothing wrong with that, unless someone with good intentions (the advancement of science for the general population) wants to collaborate with the people working for the military. Like that would ever happen.

    “This development program has become known as Self Awareness/Space Situation Awareness (SASSA). ”
    -Come on, guys give me a break. Self awareness and government? Space situation? No…not “space situation,” but rather “earth situation that spilled over into space. ” A black hole is a space situation. A magnetar is a space situation. A solar flare is a space situation. But lasers pointed at satellites–come on. Call the whole thing SHAFTED instead.

  5. RL says

    One of the first objectives in any armed conflict is to take out the enemies communications and control systems. We have become increasingly dependent on satellites for communications, GPS navigation and more. It would be foolish and negligent not to prepare to defend these systems.

  6. Silver Thread says

    Equip the Optics with Mirrors so anyone shooting a Laser at you would blow themselves up. Heh.

  7. alphonso richardson says

    Aren’t we going back to Cold War politics & mentality, where policies/hardware are being developed because of the ‘other side’s’ percieved capabilities.
    I remember documentaries featuring Defence staff getting funding for project simply because they said ‘the Commies/Arabs were at it’, yet conveniently never came up with any proof.
    Yes, yes, I know, there are time, when waitning increases your chances of being a target (smoking hole in the ground), but invoking the ‘bogeyman’ to appropriate funding for a dodgy project of dubious merit is hardly good practice.
    Then again, I’m not a politician. Or military bigwig (for which i’m grateful)

  8. DannyBoy says

    Huzzah to RL. Hopefully the military hasn’t forgotten Morse code. Remember “Independance Day”?
    Being serious though, We should never rely on specialized systems in the military (or for that matter, in any aspect of life) to the exclusion of other alternatives.

  9. Fergie says

    “fall fowl” – I think you mean ‘foul’, unless they’re playing chicken.

  10. brillo says

    cold war politics and mentality? Who would you blame when our defenseless satellites start getting fried? “well they shoulda taken the proper precautions”.

    How is it cold war paranoia to have some sort of defense (ANY defense) for an otherwise super secure communications system.

    By your logic, I’m paranoid for having fire extinguishers in my house and in my car.

  11. ggita stephen says

    i really wonder what Russia’s reponse this time will.the last U.S suggested stars wars they came up with a missle that they claim can defy any defence system.

  12. Kevin M. says

    The military “paranoiacs” are sometimes the only ones who see the future clearly. Shooting down satellites, like genetic experimentation and nuclear proliferation, is a logical development which is approaching inevitably. The shuttle disasters and 9/11 were mere premonitions of the social disruption which could result from major commsats being taken out by hostilities. So the military is waking up to the enormous risk we have created for ourselves. Western Civ is an ever-fatter sitting duck, and the only realistic defense is preparing to live without.

  13. Tyler Durden says

    Department of Defense is such an Orwellian term.

    Of course they can’t say that they’re * designing a system to attack enemy satellites using optic lasers * – instead it’s:

    “We’re developing a defense against the possibility of being attacked by enemy lasers.”

    Naturally they will have to… duh, develop the technology to fry satellite optics. Otherwise there is no way to test their defense.

  14. Maxwell says

    Two things are certain:
    1) There will be wars in the future
    2) space is too valuable to be ignored.

    A nation that sits around on its laurels waiting for its enemies to make something new sets itself up for a nasty surprise.
    With China in the space race and Russia’s history of tinkering with armed spacecraft, the US would be foolish NOT to be up-armoring its satellites. They would also be silly not to develop a reliable sat killing technology of their own.

    By having the power to defend space and keeping the details secret, we can prevent an enemy from getting confident enough to attempt a war there. It may sound like a M.A.D strategy for the high frontier, but apparently that works very well in todays world.

  15. Richard Lalancette says

    Well, if China fires at US satellite, it would be with a reason.

    M. Fulford brought forward the evidence that US HAARP technology might have been used in at least 3 occassions to create disaster, including the latest China Earthquake and the Japanes Earthquake.

    The Elites in the US are getting Cocky fire their new weapons on other countries will not remain unanswered…

  16. Steve Macharia says

    Why waste so much resources on “What if” When “what is” is on the ground for example Soaring food and oil prices? What about global warming?

  17. Taras says

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Russia, China or any other country with the know-how does use lasers to either blind or even destroy military satellites. However, simply sending another satellite near the target and commanding it to explode will do the job, and make space inaccessible because the debris created would make short work of other spacecraft by destroying them in hyper-velocity collisions.

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