Weapons are banned. Part 6: Nuclear Weapons in Space

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Weapons are banned. Part 6: Nuclear Weapons in Space
Weapons are banned. Part 6: Nuclear Weapons in Space

From the very beginning of space exploration and the emergence of space technology, the military began to think about how to make the most of outer space. More than once ideas have appeared on the deployment of various weapons in space, including nuclear ones. At present, outer space is fairly militarized, but there are no weapons directly in orbit, let alone nuclear weapons.


The deployment of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in outer space is prohibited on the basis of a treaty that entered into force on October 10, 1967.

As of October 2011, the treaty was signed by 100 countries, another 26 states signed this treaty, but did not complete the process of its ratification.

The main prohibiting document: the Outer Space Treaty, the full official name is the Treaty on the Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (intergovernmental document).

The Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967, defined the basic legal framework for contemporary international space law. Among the basic principles that were laid down in these documents, there is a ban for all participating countries to place nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in outer space. Such weapons are prohibited from being placed in earth orbit, on the moon or any other celestial body, including on board space stations. Among other things, this agreement provides for the use of any celestial bodies, including the natural satellite of the Earth, only for peaceful purposes. It directly prohibits their use for testing any types of weapons, creating military bases, structures, fortifications, as well as conducting military maneuvers. However, this treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in earth orbit.


Star Wars

Currently, a huge number of military spacecraft are in earth orbit - numerous observation, reconnaissance and communications satellites, the American GPS navigation system and the Russian GLONASS. At the same time, there are no weapons in Earth's orbit, although attempts to place them in space have been made many times. Despite the ban, projects for the deployment of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in space were considered by the military and scientists, and work in this direction was carried out.

Space opens up both active and passive options for the use of space weapons for the military. Possible options for the active use of space weapons:

- destruction of enemy missiles on the trajectory of their approach to the target (anti-missile defense);

- bombardment of enemy territory from space (use of high-precision non-nuclear weapons and preventive nuclear strikes);

- disabling the enemy's electronic equipment;

- suppression of radio communications over large areas (electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and "radio jamming");

- defeat of satellites and space orbital bases of the enemy;

- defeat of remote targets in space;

- destruction of asteroids and other space objects dangerous for the Earth.

Possible options for the passive use of space weapons:

- providing communications, coordinating the movement of military groupings, special units, submarines and surface ships;

- surveillance of the territory of a potential enemy (radio interception, photography, detection of missile launches).

At one time, both the USA and the USSR took a very serious approach to the design of space weapons - from guided space-to-space missiles to a kind of space artillery. So, in the Soviet Union, warships were created - the Soyuz R reconnaissance ship, as well as the Soyuz P interceptor armed with missiles (1962−1965), the Soyuz 7K-VI (Zvezda) - a military multi-seat research manned ship equipped with automatic cannon HP-23 (1963-1968). All these ships were created as part of the work on the creation of a military version of the Soyuz spacecraft. Also in the USSR, the option of building an OPS - the Almaz manned orbital station was considered, on which it was also planned to install a 23-mm automatic cannon NR-23, which could also fire in a vacuum. At the same time, they really managed to shoot from this gun in space.

Weapons are banned. Part 6: Nuclear Weapons in Space
Weapons are banned. Part 6: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Mounted at the Almaz orbital station, the NR-23 cannon designed by Nudelman-Richter was a modification of the tail rapid-fire cannon from the Tu-22 jet bomber. At the Almaz OPS, it was intended to protect against satellites-inspectors, as well as enemy interceptors at a distance of up to 3000 meters. To compensate for recoil when firing, two main engines with a thrust of 400 kgf or engines of rigid stabilization with a thrust of 40 kgf were used.

In April 1973, the Almaz-1 station, aka Salyut-2, was launched into space, and in 1974 the first flight of the Almaz-2 station (Salyut-3) with a crew took place. Although there were no enemy orbital interceptors in earth orbit, this station still managed to test its artillery weapons in space. When the station's service life came to an end on January 24, 1975, before its de-orbiting from the HP-23 against the orbital velocity vector, a burst of shells was fired in order to establish how firing from an automatic cannon would affect the dynamics of the orbital station. The tests then ended successfully, but the age of space artillery, one might say, will end there.

However, all these are just "toys" in comparison with nuclear weapons. Before the signing of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967, both the USSR and the United States managed to carry out a whole series of high-altitude nuclear explosions. The beginning of such tests in outer space dates back to 1958, when, in an atmosphere of strict secrecy in the United States, preparations began for an operation codenamed "Argus". The operation was named after the all-seeing, hundred-eyed god from Ancient Greece.

The main goal of this operation was to study the effect of the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion that occurs in outer space on communications equipment located on the ground, radars, electronic equipment of ballistic missiles and satellites. At least, this is what representatives of the American military department later asserted. But, most likely, these were passing experiments. The main task was to test new nuclear charges and study the interaction of plutonium isotopes, which were released during a nuclear explosion, with the magnetic field of our planet.


Thor ballistic missile

In the summer of 1958, the United States conducted a series of tests of three nuclear explosions in space. For tests, nuclear charges W25 with a capacity of 1, 7 kilotons were used. A modification of the Lockheed X-17A ballistic missile was used as delivery vehicles. The rocket was 13 meters long and 2.1 meters in diameter. The first rocket launch was made on August 27, 1958, a nuclear explosion occurred at an altitude of 161 km, on August 30, an explosion was organized at an altitude of 292 km, and the last third explosion on September 6, 1958 at an altitude of 750 km (according to other sources, 467 km) above the earth's surface … It is considered the highest-altitude nuclear explosion in the short history of such tests.

One of the most powerful nuclear explosions in space is the explosion carried out on July 9, 1962 by the United States on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The launch of a nuclear warhead aboard a Thor rocket as part of the Starfish test is the latest in a series of experiments conducted by the US military for four years. The consequences of a high-altitude explosion with a capacity of 1, 4 megatons turned out to be quite unexpected.

Information about the test was leaked to the media, so in Hawaii, about 1300 kilometers from the site of the explosion, the population was expecting a heavenly "fireworks". When the warhead exploded at an altitude of 400 kilometers, the sky and the sea were illuminated for a moment by the strongest flash, which was like the midday sun, after which for a second the sky turned a light green color. At the same time, the inhabitants of the island of Ohau observed much less pleasant consequences. On the island, street lighting suddenly went out, residents stopped receiving the signal of the local radio station, and telephone communications were disrupted. The work of high-frequency radio communication systems was also disrupted. Later, scientists found that the explosion of the "Starfish" caused the formation of a very strong electromagnetic pulse, which had tremendous destructive power. This impulse covered a huge area around the epicenter of a nuclear explosion. Within a short time, the sky above the horizon changed color to blood red. Scientists have been looking forward to just this moment.


During all previous high-altitude tests of nuclear weapons in space, a cloud of charged particles appeared, which after a certain time were deformed by the planet's magnetic field and stretched along its natural belts, outlining their structure. However, no one expected what happened in the months following the explosion. Intense artificial radiation belts caused the failure of 7 satellites that were in low Earth orbits - this was a third of the entire space constellation that existed at that time. The consequences of these and other nuclear tests in space are the subject of study by scientists to this day.

In the USSR, a series of high-altitude nuclear tests was carried out in the period from October 27, 1961 to November 11, 1962. It is known that during this period 5 nuclear explosions were carried out, of which 4 were carried out in low earth orbit (space), another in the Earth's atmosphere, but at high altitude. The operation was carried out in two stages: autumn 1961 ("K-1" and "K-2"), autumn 1962 ("K-3", "K-4" and "K-5"). In all cases, the R-12 rocket was used to deliver the charge, which was equipped with a detachable warhead. The missiles were launched from the Kapustin Yar test site. The power of the explosions carried out ranged from 1, 2 kilotons to 300 kilotons. The height of the explosion was 59, 150 and 300 kilometers above the Earth's surface. All explosions were carried out during the daytime in order to reduce the negative impact of the explosion on the retina of the human eye.

Soviet tests solved several problems at once. First, they became another test of reliability for the ballistic nuclear launch vehicle - R-12. Secondly, the operation of the nuclear charges themselves was checked. Thirdly, scientists wanted to find out the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion and its impact on a variety of military equipment, including military satellites and missiles. Fourth, the principles of building an anti-missile defense "Taran" were worked out, which provided for the defeat of enemy missiles by a series of high-altitude nuclear explosions on their way.


Ballistic missile R-12

In the future, such nuclear tests were not carried out. In 1963, the USSR, the USA and the UK signed an agreement banning nuclear weapons tests in three environments (under water, in the atmosphere and in outer space). In 1967, a ban on nuclear tests and the deployment of nuclear weapons in outer space was additionally outlined in the adopted Outer Space Treaty.

However, at present, the problem of placing conventional weapons systems in space is becoming more and more acute. The question of finding weapons in outer space inevitably brings us to the question of military domination in outer space. And the essence here is extremely simple, if one of the countries places its weapons in space ahead of time, it will be able to gain control over it, and not only over it. The formula that existed back in the 1960s - "Who owns space, owns the Earth" - does not lose its relevance today. Placing various weapons systems in outer space is one of the ways to establish military and political dominance on our planet. That litmus test that can clearly demonstrate the intentions of countries, which can be hidden behind the statements of politicians and diplomats.

Understanding of this alarms some states and pushes them to take retaliatory steps. For this, both asymmetric and symmetric measures can be taken. In particular, the development of various MSS - anti-satellite weapons, about which today a lot is written in the media, many opinions and assumptions are expressed in this regard. In particular, there are proposals to work out not only a ban on the placement of conventional weapons in space, but also on the creation of anti-satellite weapons.


Boeing X-37

According to a report by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in 2013 alone, more than a thousand different satellites operated in space, which belonged to more than 60 countries and private companies. Among them, military space systems are also very widespread, which have become an integral part of a wide variety of military, peacekeeping and diplomatic operations. According to data published in the United States, $ 12 billion was spent on military satellites in 2012, and the total cost of work in this segment could double by 2022. The excitement of some experts is also caused by the American program with the unmanned X37B spacecraft, which many consider as a carrier of high-precision weapons systems.

Realizing the danger of launching strike systems into space, the Russian Federation and the PRC, on February 12, 2008, jointly signed in Geneva a draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Use of Force or the Threat of Force against Various Space Objects. This treaty provided for a ban on the placement of any types of weapons in outer space. Prior to that, Moscow and Beijing had been discussing mechanisms for implementing such an agreement for 6 years. At the same time, a European draft Code of Conduct was presented at the conference, which touches upon issues of space activities and was adopted by the EU Council on December 9, 2008. Many countries participating in space exploration positively assess the draft treaty and the Code, but the United States refuses to tie its hands in this area with any restrictions.

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