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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

[Science and the world of tomorrow] What would Uncle Sam do about any satellite killing missiles?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26821points) October 22nd, 2016

I was at the home of one of the Brethren who likes watching lots of technical and history TV. One of the shows about technology had a segment about controlling the skies (mainly space), and alluded to the Chinese were trying to develop missiles that can be fired from Earth to take out satellites in LEO and MEO orbits. Seeing that fact can make a threat of one having such missiles, as they can take out spy satellites or disrupt weather satellites, if Uncle Sam discovers that the Chinese developed them, what would happen, would the US try to send spies or operatives to sabotage it? Maybe trump up some reason to bomb the instillations or get some fall guy (some affiliate) to do the actual dirty work? Would Uncle Sam try to steal the technology and arm themselves with like missiles, to retaliate should they be used against US satellites?

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13 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

On its face this does not seem to be a very credible threat to me. Orbital mechanics are far different from ballistic missile technology. “Missiles” don’t fly into outer space, except perhaps the lowest of LEOs. Weather and communications satellites are in geosynchronous orbits, approximately 22,000 miles above the planet’s surface. No missile is going to take them out, although killer satellites could be a thing someday.

Zaku's avatar

Would the US try to send spies or operatives to sabotage it?
No.

Maybe trump up some reason to bomb the instillations or get some fall guy (some affiliate) to do the actual dirty work?
No.

Would Uncle Sam try to steal the technology and arm themselves with like missiles, to retaliate should they be used against US satellites?
No.

The US proposed developing such missiles themselves circa 1984. The cheapest version I remember was a missile attached to a jet fighter which would act as a booster to high altitude. The missile needed no warhead since a simple collision would involve so much energy. I would expect that if the USA and Russia don’t already have things capable of taking out satellites and ready to launch, they would be able to develop them fairly quickly.

But I don’t know what weird world view you have where you think China and the US are in some sort of cold war like that, or that such attacks would be either desired, or that they would be a positive thing to do.

(My working theory of your questions and how they relate to your user name continues to be that you make up weird questions as experiments to see how far you can get people to follow the train of thought, but that you may not actually think that way yourself.)

MrGrimm888's avatar

The strategy is flawed. My understanding is that there is already a dangerous amount of space junk. If someone blew up a few satellites, humans would be ‘stuck’ on Earth. The debris would make it too dangerous to leave.

Better strategy would be to have their satellite grab ours and hurl it out into space. Or disable them some other way.

Bill1939's avatar

@MrGrimm888 is correct. The Chinese successfully destroyed one of their own satellites with a ground based missile. However, the debris continues to orbit the Earth and poses a hazard to other satellites, the space station and personnel working outside of it. Even paint fragments can penetrate solar panels and space suits. Rather than destroying a satellite, placing another satellite nearby that can jam communications would be an effective countermeasure.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The technology already exists to disrupt and/or destroy satellites. The US had an F-15 launched device 30+ years ago. ASM-135 ASAT . Unfortunately/fortunately debris can eventually damage other satellites including our own. Mutually Assured Destruction discourages use of such a weapon.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@MrGrimm888 Better strategy would be to have their satellite grab ours and hurl it out into space.
So, if someone had a satellite with a spring-loaded hammer, battering ram, etc. that could be deployed to ”nudge” a satellite from its orbit, how large would it have to be so dislodge a satellite from orbit without disrupting the battering satellite from its orbit, or out of control (seeing it has nothing solid to anchor on to push the other satellite)?

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Momentum and energy is always conserved. The battering satellite can use the other satellite to effectively push itself faster while slowing the other satellite down and potentially out of orbit.
Or…. it can simply break off a piece of critical hardware like the communication antenna array leaving all pieces in the original orbit.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Yeah. Once in orbit, whatever device,or strategy needed to disable the satellite could be very simple. As long as the satellite has no armor, or defensive countermeasures.

With the right math, they could crash it on the Whitehouse lawn. Although it would never make it .

Bill1939's avatar

@MrGrimm888 “countermeasures” that produce debris would be counter-productive.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Correct. I was thinking along the lines of stealth technology, or ways to ‘play dead.’

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^^ “countermeasures” that produce debris would be counter-productive.
In essence if one obliterated a large enough satellite, they can just sit back and watch a NASCAR type pile up in space, as each satellite runs into the debris of other satellites, thus becoming part of the expanding debris field.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^That’s what I’ve read HC. They say it’s dangerously close to a trapped on Earth situation. Apparently most early space programs left lots of debris, in addition to normal stuff. The speed it’s moving at is what makes the debris so destructive.

LuckyGuy's avatar

You are talking about the Kessler Effect proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978.
The potential for disaster is quite real. A Russian collided with an Iridium communication satellite in 2009 making a debris cloud that is still being tracked.

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