Weapons in Space

August 16, 2011 • Volume 5, Issue 16
Can a global treaty prevent hostilities in space?
By Konstantin Kakaes

Introduction

A missile targeting a malfunctioning U.S. spy satellite is launched by the Pacific-based guided missile cruiser Lake Erie (Cover: Getty Images/U.S. Navy)
A missile targeting a malfunctioning U.S. spy satellite is launched by the Pacific-based guided missile cruiser Lake Erie on Feb. 20, 2008. The Air Force said it wanted to prevent the fuel-laden satellite from crashing, but many saw the shoot-down 130 miles above Earth as a show of force in answer to China's destruction of one of its own weather satellites the previous year. Communication and reconnaissance satellites are seen as vulnerable, priority targets for space weapons. (Cover: Getty Images/U.S. Navy)

The more than 1,000 active satellites orbiting the Earth present vulnerable targets to hostile nations, and attacks could cause wide-ranging damage: Weather satellites help predict hurricanes; communication satellites support telephones and other electronics and satellite-based navigation networks provide myriad services worldwide. Moreover, an attack on a satellite also would add to the more than 12,000 pieces of potentially dangerous space junk already orbiting the Earth at speeds exceeding 17,000 miles per hour. So far, weapons have not been deployed in space that threaten satellites, nor has a satellite been deliberately destroyed by hostile action. But both the United States and China have shown they can target and destroy satellites. Some U.S. military leaders have pushed for the United States to achieve “space superiority,” in part by developing a controversial system that could destroy incoming enemy missiles. Because such a missile defense system could also target satellites, many countries want it outlawed. But international negotiations to ban or regulate anti-satellite and other space weapons have been stalled for years.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Space Exploration
Aug. 04, 2017  New Space Race
Jun. 20, 2014  Search for Life On New Planets
Feb. 24, 2012  Space Program
Aug. 16, 2011  Weapons in Space
Oct. 16, 2009  Human Spaceflight
May 23, 2003  NASA's Future
Jul. 23, 1999  New Challenges in Space
Apr. 25, 1997  Space Program's Future
Dec. 24, 1993  Space Program's Future
Mar. 29, 1991  Uncertain Future for Man in Space
Jul. 31, 1987  Space Race
Feb. 07, 1986  Space Decisions after Challenger
Feb. 18, 1983  American Options in Space
Nov. 10, 1978  Changing U.S. Space Policy
Jul. 04, 1975  Cooperation in Space
Mar. 15, 1972  Space Shuttle Controversy
Oct. 01, 1969  Mission to Mars: Benefits Vs. Costs
Nov. 13, 1968  Goals in Space
Jun. 29, 1966  Future of Space Exploration
May 08, 1963  Moon Race Controversy
Jun. 27, 1962  Peaceful Use of Outer Space
Nov. 01, 1961  Space Exploration
Dec. 09, 1959  National Space Policy
Feb. 19, 1958  Control of Outer Space
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Cold War