Knockin 'on Heaven

Knockin 'on Heaven
Knockin 'on Heaven
Knockin 'on Heaven

In Capella Space's All-Seeing Eye: A Harbinger of a Satellite Reconnaissance Revolution, we looked at the promise of compact, low-cost reconnaissance satellites that could form orbital constellations of hundreds or even thousands of satellites in orbit.

Orbital constellations of reconnaissance, navigation and communications satellites are the cornerstone for the success of warfare on land, water and air. The effectiveness of the enemy's armed forces, deprived of space reconnaissance, navigation and communications systems, will decrease by several orders of magnitude. The use of some types of weapons can be very difficult or even completely impossible.

For example, cruise missiles (CR) will lose the ability to retarget in flight, their hitting accuracy will decrease, and the preparation time for a strike will increase. Long-range cruise missiles without a terrain navigation system without satellite guidance will generally become useless. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will lose the possibility of global use - their range will be limited by the range of direct radio visibility from ground control points or repeater aircraft.


In general, the conduct of network-centric combat operations "without space" will become much more complicated, and the format of the battlefield will return to the look of the Second World War.

In connection with the above, the leading countries of the world are concerned with the issues of confrontation in outer space, in particular, the issue of the destruction of the enemy's orbital groupings.

Speaking about the task of destroying artificial earth satellites (AES) of the enemy, one cannot but recall a similar problem - missile defense (ABM). On the one hand, these tasks largely overlap, but on the other hand, they have certain specificities.

In the mid-late 20th - early 21st centuries, a lot of attention was paid to missile defense systems, a significant number of weapon systems and missile defense concepts were worked out. We examined them in detail in the articles of the series "The Decline of the Nuclear Triad" - Cold War and Star Wars missile defense, US missile defense: the present and near future, and US missile defense after 2030: intercept thousands of warheads.

Many of the technical solutions developed in the framework of missile defense can be used or adapted to solve anti-satellite missions.

Scorched sky

Of course, when it comes to the destruction of large satellite constellations, the issue of nuclear weapons (NW) cannot be ignored. Almost all initially developed missile defense systems used nuclear warheads (YBCH) in anti-missiles. However, in the future they were abandoned, since there is an insurmountable problem - after the explosion of the first nuclear warhead, the guidance systems will be "blinded" by a flash of light and electromagnetic interference, which means that other warheads of the enemy cannot be detected and destroyed.

With the defeat of spacecraft, everything is different. The orbits of satellites are known, therefore, a series of nuclear explosions can be organized at certain points in outer space, even without the use of radar and optical-location stations (radar and OLS).

However, the first fundamental obstacle to the destruction of satellites by nuclear weapons is that the use of nuclear weapons is possible only within the framework of a global nuclear war, or it will cause it to start

The second obstacle is that nuclear weapons do not disassemble "friends" and "aliens", therefore, all spacecraft of all countries, including the initiator of the nuclear explosion, will be destroyed within the radius of destruction

Opinions differ on the resistance of spacecraft to the damaging factors of nuclear weapons. On the one hand, satellites, especially in low orbits, can be very vulnerable to the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion.

For example, on July 9, 1962 in the USA, on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the "Starfish" tests were carried out to detonate a thermonuclear weapon with a capacity of 1.4 megatons in space at an altitude of 400 kilometers.


At 1300 km from the scene, in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, street lighting suddenly went out, the local radio station was no longer received, and the telephone connection was also lost. In some places in the Pacific Ocean, high-frequency radio communication systems were disrupted for half a minute. In the following months, the resulting artificial radiation belts disabled seven satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), which was about a third of the then existing space fleet.

On the one hand, there were few satellites then, it is possible that now not seven, but one hundred satellites would have been destroyed. On the other hand, the design of satellites has improved significantly, they have become much more reliable than in 1962. On military models, measures are taken to protect against hard radiation.

Much more important is the fact that the satellites went out of order for several months, that is, they were struck not by a direct explosion, but by its distant consequences. What is the use of the fact that the naval reconnaissance and target designation satellites for anti-ship missiles (ASM) went out of action a month later, if by that time the enemy had melted the long-range anti-ship missiles of the entire surface fleet?


The use of nuclear weapons for the immediate destruction of satellites is unlikely to be justified even from an economic point of view - too many nuclear warheads will be required. The scale of outer space is colossal, the distances between satellites are still thousands of kilometers and will be hundreds of kilometers, even when tens of thousands of satellites are in LEO.

Thus, the third obstacle is the scale of outer space, which does not allow one nuclear explosion to destroy a large number of satellites at once

Proceeding from this, the leading powers of the world began to consider non-nuclear ways of solving both missile defense tasks and the destruction of satellites.

Anti-missiles against satellites

Currently, there are several approaches, the most proven of which is the destruction of enemy spacecraft with anti-satellite missiles equipped with high-precision kinetic intercept units. These can be both highly specialized anti-satellite solutions and ammunition of the anti-missile defense (ABM) system.


Real tests to destroy low-orbit satellites with physical destruction of targets in orbit were carried out by the United States and China. In particular, on February 21, 2008, the inoperative USA-193 experimental reconnaissance satellite of the US military space reconnaissance was successfully destroyed with the help of the SM-3 anti-missile.


A year earlier, China conducted a successful test, destroying a one-tonne FY-1C meteorological satellite with a direct hit from an anti-satellite missile launched from a mobile ground launcher in an orbit of 865 km.

The disadvantage of anti-satellite missiles is their significant cost. For example, the cost of the newest SM-3 Block IIA interceptor missile is about 18 million US dollars, the cost of GBI interceptor missiles is supposedly several times higher. If for the destruction of existing large and expensive military satellites the exchange of "1-2 missiles - 1 satellite" can be considered justified, then the prospect of deploying hundreds and thousands of inexpensive satellites created on the basis of commercial technologies,can make the use of anti-satellite missiles a suboptimal solution based on the cost-effectiveness criterion.


In Russia, antimissiles of the A-235 "Nudol" system can potentially destroy satellites, but no actual firing of these antimissiles at satellites has yet been made. The estimated height of the destruction of satellites can be on the order of 1000-2000 kilometers. It is unlikely that the A-235 Nudol interceptor missiles are much cheaper than their American counterparts.


Drawing an analogy with military / commercial satellites, it can be assumed that, similarly to the reduction in the cost of satellites, the costs of anti-satellite missiles can be reduced, for example, due to their implementation on the basis of commercial ultralight launch vehicles (LV). This is partly possible due to the use of individual technical solutions, but in general, anti-satellite missiles and launch vehicles for placing the payload (PN) into orbit are too different in their tasks and conditions of use.

The cost of launching a payload into orbit per 1 kilogram of ultralight rockets still remains higher than that of "large" rockets that launch satellites in packets. The advantage of ultralight rockets lies in the speed of launch and flexibility in working with customers.


Air-launched anti-satellite missiles

As an alternative solution, the concept of launching air-launched anti-satellite missiles from high-altitude tactical aircraft - fighters or interceptors was considered.

In the United States, this concept was implemented in the 80s of the XX century as part of the ASM-135 ASAT project. In the specified anti-satellite complex, the three-stage ASM-135 rocket was launched from a modified F-15A fighter flying upward at an altitude of over 15 kilometers and a speed of about 1, 2M. The target hitting range was up to 650 kilometers, the target hitting height - up to 600 kilometers. Guidance of the third stage - the MHV interceptor, was carried out on the infrared (IR) radiation of the target, the defeat was carried out by a direct hit.


As part of the tests on September 13, 1985, the ASM-135 ASAT complex destroyed the P78-1 satellite flying at an altitude of 555 kilometers.


It was supposed to modify 20 fighters and make 112 ASM-135 missiles for them. However, if the initial estimate assumed expenses for this purpose in the amount of $ 500 million, then later the amount increased to $ 5.3 billion, which led to the cancellation of the program.

Based on this, it cannot be said that an air launch of interceptor missiles will lead to a significant reduction in the cost of destroying enemy satellites.

In the USSR, at about the same time, a similar anti-space defense complex 30P6 "Contact" was developed on the basis of the MiG-31 aircraft in the anti-satellite version of the MiG-31D and anti-satellite missiles 79M6. Guidance of 79M6 missiles was to be carried out by the 45Zh6 "Krona" radio-optical complex for recognizing space objects.


Two prototypes of the MiG-31D were created and sent to the Sary-Shagan test site for testing. However, the collapse of the USSR put an end to this project, as well as many others.

Presumably, since 2009, work on the creation of the MiG-31D has been resumed, a new anti-satellite missile is being developed at the Fakel Design Bureau for the complex.


In addition to the high cost, another serious drawback of all existing anti-satellite missiles is their limited reach in height - it is extremely difficult to destroy satellites in geostationary or geosynchronous orbits in this way, and the complexes designed to solve this problem can no longer be placed on ships or installed in silo launchers - for this purpose, a heavy or super-heavy class launch vehicle will be required.

Space system missile defense "Naryad"

Earlier we mentioned the inability of anti-satellite missiles to defeat satellites in medium and high orbits. This situation continues to this day.Consequently, the enemy will most likely be able to maintain the global positioning system, as well as partially the intelligence and communications systems. However, work on weapons capable of hitting objects in high orbits was carried out.

Since the late 1970s, the USSR has been developing a project of the space missile defense system "Naryad" / "Naryad-V". The lead developer of the project was the Salyut Design Bureau. Within the framework of the "Outfit" project, it was proposed to install interceptor satellites on modified ballistic missiles of the "Rokot" or UR-100N type.

It was assumed that the Naryad missile defense system would be able to intercept not only ballistic missile warheads, but also any other space objects of natural and artificial origin, such as satellites and meteorites in orbits up to 40,000 kilometers. Active countermeasures satellites, deployed on modified ballistic missiles, were supposed to carry space-to-space missiles.

From 1990 to 1994, two suborbital test launches and one test launch at an altitude of 1900 kilometers were carried out, after which the work was curtailed. If in the 90s the work stopped due to lack of funding, then earlier the project was hampered by the "peacemaker" Gorbachev, who did not want to disturb his overseas friends.

For some time, the project was supported by the GKNPTs im. M.V. Khrunicheva. During a visit to this enterprise in 2002 V.V. Putin instructed the Minister of Defense to study the feasibility of resuming the "Outfit" project. In 2009, Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation V.A. Popovkin said that Russia is developing anti-satellite weapons, including taking into account the backlog obtained during the implementation of the project "Naryad".

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