Chinese military experts have called for the development of a “hard kill” weapon capable of destroying Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system if it poses a threat to China’s national security.
The researchers emphasized Starlink’s “huge potential for military applications,” as well as the need for China to develop countermeasures to monitor, disable, or even destroy the growing satellite mega constellation. Their paper was published in the journal China’s Modern Defense Technology last month. A translated version of the article can be accessed here.
“A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation’s operating system,” the paper reads, citing “hidden dangers and challenges” to China. The researchers behind the recent paper also warn of Starlink going on the “offensive” and using the satellites’ ion thrusters to knock China’s spacecraft or satellites out of their orbits.
Starlink is Musk’s SpaceX company’s broadband satellite internet network that aims to beam internet access to customers anywhere in the world as long as they have a Starlink satellite dish to connect to the satellites. SpaceX has launched over 2,300 Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit since the first ones were launched in 2019, and the company plans to launch up to 42,000 satellites into space to form a massive mega constellation.
The Chinese researchers were particularly concerned about the constellation’s potential military capabilities, which they claim could be used to track hypersonic missiles, dramatically increase the data transmission speeds of US drones and stealth fighter jets, or even ram into and destroy Chinese satellites. China has already had some close encounters with Starlink satellites, writing to the United Nations last year to complain that the country’s space station had to perform emergency maneuvers to avoid “close encounters” with Starlink satellites in July and October 2021.
China already has several methods for deactivating satellites. According to the US Department of Defense, these include microwave jammers that can disrupt communications or fry electrical components; powerful millimeter-resolution lasers that can capture high-resolution images and blind satellite sensors; cyber-weapons that can hack into satellite networks and destroy them; and long-range anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles that can destroy them (opens in new tab). However, the researchers believe that while these measures are effective against individual satellites, they will not be sufficient to derail Starlink.