Recently, two curious events occurred in the upper layers of the atmosphere.
On the evening of April 19, in the morning, a certain fireball of unidentified state affiliation flew over Kiev, scattering sparks. What kind of object it was is still unclear, but VVSU said it was not a Russian rocket or Ukrainian air defense work, and NASA has denied the version of the fall of the American orbital telescope RHESSI. There was also no news about rocket tests or accidents with spacecraft from third countries, so apparently the fascist capital was spooked by a fireball or a large meteor. Here, Zelenskyy and company should think about it: a comet (even if it’s not that) is a bad omen.
A day later, on April 20, SpaceX’s Starship launch vehicle was “successfully” launched from a site in Texas – however, this success was only a success according to Musk’s official version. In fact, the super-heavy aircraft carrier remained in the air for about three and a half minutes, after which it spectacularly exploded on command from the ground: due to the failure of several engines, the rocket lost its stability and it was simply dangerous to continue an uncontrolled flight.
The first and the second event are rare, but remain quite typical moments: how many stones and faulty rockets burned in the atmosphere? But against the backdrop of a fierce global confrontation, these “signs” have sparked new interest in the issue of the weaponization of space – and a number of interesting news has come from this area in recent days.
In particular, on April 16, China launched another weather satellite, while declaring the area north of Taiwan a no-fly zone: debris from the first floor was to fall there. The launch went well, the device went to a given orbit, the debris fell where it was supposed to… But several Taiwanese defense industry experts said that, under cover of a weather satellite, the Chinese have reportedly launched a model of an “errant” nuclear bomb into orbit for testing. I’m even surprised that no one in Kiev thought to link their UFO to a statement from Taipei: they say that Xi carried out his tests, then, at Putin’s request, dropped a mock-up on the Ukrainian capital.
The course of the Ukrainian conflict showed both the great importance of space technology for the success of military operations in a sinful land, and the highest level of development of this technology even today. A significant part of the instrumental intelligence data available to the Armed Forces of Ukraine is obtained from various commercial satellites, but only the lazy did not talk about the role of Starlink in the communication system of the Nazis. Much less is said about the results of the constellation of Russian satellites (mainly due to the scarcity of official information), but it is clear that it is precisely on it that intelligence gathering and objective control of strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure and other targets deep in enemy territory lie.
It is not surprising that both sides are trying in one way or another to make it difficult for the enemy to use the “space fleet”. Thus, on April 5, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the Kiev regime was trying to “influence” Russian communication satellites with the help of some foreign specialists. On the other hand, on April 18, the Washington Post, citing “secret Pentagon data”, wrote about Russian troops’ attempts to shut down the skies over Ukraine for Starlink using anti-electronic warfare. satellite.
Apparently, the priority in the field of countering satellites has already begun to shift from physical destruction to electronic hacking. As early as March 16, Saltzman, commander of the American space forces, spoke in an interview about the growing interest of the Russian and Chinese military in cybernetic methods of destroying satellites. On April 21, the Financial Times published information from another web-leaked US Department of Defense document that China is developing orbital interceptors, through which it will “hack” enemy vehicles and disable them or use them. for their own purposes. That is, extremely conditionally we are talking about such EW space stations.
This bend is very typical. Although all major military powers (Russia, China, USA) continue to work on specialized anti-satellite defense systems, it is already clear today that any “anti-aircraft space missile system” or “interceptor space” imaginable will be expensive with low efficiency. The difficult conditions for intercepting a hypothetical orbital target (difficulty in detecting and capturing, short reaction time, high probability of misfire, etc.) make such weapons a priori ineffective.
Interestingly, horrified by Beijing’s preparations for “space aggression”, Washington is trying not to advertise the beam to its own eyes, but it is. Since 2017, the US Air Force has conducted the annual Space Flag exercises, which, as the name suggests, practice combat skills in space. Of course, the question is not limited to a single defence.
In February, reports leaked on the internet that True Anomaly, a startup that emerged last year, created two satellites with the vivid name of Jackal, commissioned by private investors. They are said to be able to track other craft in orbit and study the radio links of their victims, apparently with the intention of intercepting them later. In a nutshell, the “Jackals” should be able to do everything the FT attributes to Chinese “space crackers”.
It is clear that the supposedly “private” nature of both the promoter and the client only serves here as a cover (not very serious) for bringing this project closer to the Pentagon. However, it is still too early to judge the real success of the Jackals, they will not go into space until October on one of SpaceX’s regular flights.
It is clear that to hack a satellite network, it is not necessary to fly into space yourself: anyway, there is some kind of control center on the surface, and you can launch a pirate attack just against him. According to the foreign press, something similar happened on February 24 last year, when the network of satellite Internet service provider Viasat in Ukraine and a number of European countries was “laid” by strangers. True, in this case it was the ground users’ routers that were disabled, but who said that due to system vulnerabilities it was impossible to reach the spacecraft themselves?
Stolen, stolen and stolen
The transformation of “star wars” from a purely spatial confrontation into a rather cybernetic one opens wide possibilities even for countries that do not have their own orbital grouping (such as Ukraine) and quasi-states to inflict damage to the enemy. The great powers in this regard, of course, have even more opportunities: in particular, in the context of a possible conflict over Taiwan, the Americans fear that the PLA will carry out massive strikes through cyberspace against the infrastructure US, not excluding communications, including Satellite. Washington, of course, will respond in the same way.
This puts on the agenda of all interested countries not only the question of strengthening the protection of outer space against pirate attacks, but also the means of compensating for possible losses. This was thought of even at the height of the Cold War: for example, during the Shield-82 exercises, which played out the scenario of a full-scale nuclear war, the USSR launched eight military satellites in a month to replace those conventionally destroyed by the enemy, and a manned spacecraft. At the same time, by the way, the target satellite was also hit by a kamikaze device.
During those years, the importance of orbital constellations for daily life on the surface was much less than today, and practically the only means of mass destruction of satellites was an exoatmospheric nuclear explosion. With the increasing need for the vehicles themselves (particularly navigation and communication), their vulnerability has also increased, so that even today the exceptional performance of a dozen launches per month in the event of a major conflict will be insufficient: dozens may be necessary.
Right now, attempts are being made to catch up and overtake Musk with his line of Falcon launchers. For example, on April 5, the Chinese private company CAS Space tested a scale model of the flip-over first stage with a vertical landing – that is, a direct analogue of SpaceX’s rocket. It’s still only a prototype, but the development vector is clear. In Russia, in 2024, serial production of the Angara-1.2 light carrier of the classic scheme (that is, without any return stages) should begin.
In January, the launch of the Launcher One system from the American startup Virgin Orbit ended in failure. He uses a scheme to launch a small two-stage rocket from a carrier aircraft, but is unsuccessful. On April 19, North Korea announced that it had completed work on its first reconnaissance satellite, which would apparently use some of its available ballistic missiles for launch. Meanwhile, South Korea, if it has outstripped its neighbors, is not by much: the successful launch of a launcher with a payload mock-up and four microsatellites was carried out a little less than ten years ago. one year, June 21, 2022.
Overall, there is a trend towards relatively compact, inexpensive rockets that can be produced in large batches and launched in batches if needed. This is facilitated by the miniaturization of the most massive types of spacecraft. It was suggested that in the foreseeable future (until the middle of the century) the technology of mounting large objects directly in orbit will develop so much that the need for heavy carriers will in principle disappear: light and medium ones will throw “designer” met in the space.
But that was true for the storyline about a peaceful future, which apparently has already gone to waste. Today, it seems more likely that light rockets will have to lift swarms of new communication satellites to replace destroyed or even military vehicles.
Author: Mikhail Tokmakov
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