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China Wants 'Hard Kill' Capability To Counter Starlink Satellites

China's military experts seem to be calling for a "hard kill" weapon to destroy the Starlink satellite system created using SpaceX rocket technology.

The Chinese researchers were particularly concerned by the potential military capabilities of the constellation, which they claim could be used to track hypersonic missiles; dramatically boost the data transmission speeds of U.S. drones and stealth fighter jets; or even ram into and destroy Chinese satellites. China has had some near misses with Starlink satellites already, having written to the U.N. last year to complain that the country's space station was forced to perform emergency maneuvers to avoid "close encounters" with Starlink satellites in July and October 2021.

"A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation's operating system," the researchers, led by Ren Yuanzhen, a researcher at the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications, which is part of the Chinese military's Strategic Support Force, wrote in the paper. Hard and soft kill are the two categories of space weapons, with hard kill being weapons that physically strike their targets (like missiles) and soft kill including jamming and laser weapons.

(Via Livescience)

Historians know that the United States and the Soviet Union explored a variety of technologies to destroy satellites in orbit; the earliest occurred in the late 1950's; see the anti-satellite weapon page on Wikipedia for a summary.

The Chinese (or any other) military would need significant resources to damage the Starlink system, which now numbers about 2,500 satellites:

The [5/13/2022] launch from Vandenberg raised the total number of Starlink satellites launched to more than 2,547 spacecraft. That number includes prototypes, failed satellites, and decommissioned spacecraft no longer in the constellation.

More than 2,200 Starlink satellites are currently in orbit and working, according to an analysis by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who tracks spaceflight activity. That’s about half of SpaceX’s planned first-generation network of 4,408 Starlink satellites.

The 4,400 satellites will be spread among five different orbital “shells” at different altitudes and inclinations.

(Via SpaceFlightNow)

As far as I know, the earliest reference in science fiction to the idea of a satellite being deliberately destroyed from Earth was in The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner, published in 1975. He described a satellite sanded in orbit, where "sanded" comes from "search and destroy.

(Via Livescience)

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