China’s military is developing powerful lasers, electromagnetic railguns and high-power microwave weapons for use in a future “light war” involving space-based attacks on satellites.
Beijing’s push to produce so-called directed-energy weapons aims to neutralize America’s key strategic advantage: the web of intelligence, communication and navigation satellites enabling military strikes of unparalleled precision expeditionary warfare far from US shores.
The idea of a space-based laser gun was disclosed in the journal Chinese Optics in December 2013 by three researchers, Gao Ming-hui, Zeng Yu-quang and Wang Zhi-hong. All work for the Changchun Institute for Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics – the leading center for laser weapons technology.
“In future wars, the development of ASAT [anti-satellite] weapons is very important,” they wrote. “Among those weapons, laser attack system enjoys significant advantages of fast response speed, robust counter-interference performance and a high target destruction rate, especially for a space-based ASAT system. So the space-based laser weapon system will be one of the major ASAT development projects.”
The researchers propose building a 5-ton chemical laser that will be stationed in low-earth orbit as a combat platform capable of destroying satellites in orbit. Given funding by the Chinese military, which is in charge of China’s space program, the satellite-killing laser could be deployed by 2023.
According to the article, an anti-satellite attack in space would employ a ground-based radar to identify a target satellite, a special camera to provide precision targeting and a deployable membrane telescope that would focus the laser beam on the target satellite.
The article also reveals that in 2005, the Chinese conducted a test of a ground-based laser weapon that was used to “blind” an orbiting satellite.
“In 2005, we have successfully conducted a satellite-blinding experiment using a 50-100 kilowatt capacity mounted laser gun in Xinjiang province,” the three researchers wrote. “The target was a low orbit satellite with a tilt distance of 600 kilometers. The diameter of the telescope firing the laser beam is 0.6 meters wide. The accuracy of [acquisition, tracking and pointing is less than 5 [microradians].”
Richard Fisher, a China military specialist at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, disclosed the existence of the laser weapons program in US congressional testimony last month.
He did, however, caution that the publication of such articles is a clear indication that Beijing wants the world to believe — or at least raise the possibility that it could — rapidly militarize space.
China’s space program is dual-use — supporting both civilian and military needs. For example, China’s Shenzhou and Tiangong manned spacecraft were used to perform military missions. China’s coming space station and plans for a future base on the moon also will have military applications. It is conceivable that China could launch an orbiting laser gun disguised as a scientific module.
President Donald Trump and his policies have sparked worldwide marches, seemingly round-the-clock demonstrations, and a fierce popular resistance movement, and now, it seems, the "first protest in space."
The citizen-led space exploration group, the Autonomous Space Agency Network (ASAN), this week launched a weather balloon carrying an image of tweet directed at Trump. It says, in all capital letters: "LOOK AT THAT, YOU SON OF A BITCH."
It is a reference to the late NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who once said that when you view the Earth from space, you develop a "global consciousness...an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it."
"From out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty," Mitchell famously declared. "You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.'"
ASAN's message to the president, which flew approximately 90,000 feet high, was launched Wednesday to commemorate Yuri's Night, the anniversary of the first human space flight in 1961, and to express solidarity with the upcoming anti-Trump March for Science on April 22.
The Trump administration's disdain for environmental and public health regulations, its cuts to medical research, and its suppression of climate-related research and information has prompted widespread concern and outcry over what has been described as a 'war on science.' To assert the importance of evidence-based policymaking and the "vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments," advocates will be marching on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. as well as in more than 425 satellite demonstrations.
In addition to promoting the Earth Day action, ASAN launched its celestial protest to help raise funds so that it may continue its mission of "bridging the gap between scientific discovery and artistic expression."
"Outer space is open by definition, and must be democratic and accessible to
all autonauts," the group's website reads. "Relegating space solely to
government actors and corporate interests necessarily creates false and
unsustainable divides in the otherwise radically free cosmic environment. The
only sustainable and democratic method of exploring outer space must be rooted
in a decentralized network of community-based, autonomous space agencies."