Billionaire CEO Elon Musk is facing the ire of Chinese authorities, as Chinese military researchers are now looking to develop a “hard kill” weapon designed to destroy satellite systems. China argued that SpaceX’s mega satellite constellation, which could have as many as 42,000 satellites upon completion, could be used by the US military for surveillance and other military purposes.
Starlink is a constellation of satellites created by SpaceX, with the aim of launching satellite internet coverage that will one day span the entire globe.
Drawing attention to Starlink’s “huge potential for military applications”, the researchers argued that Beijing needs to develop countermeasures to surveil, disable or even destroy the mega constellation.
In a paper published in the journal China’s Modern Defence Technology, the researchers wrote: “While Starlink claims to be a civilian program that provides high-speed Internet services, it has a strong military background as well evidenced by the fact that some of the launch sites are built within the Vandenberg Air Force Base and the encrypted interconnection between the satellites and Air Force fighters has been included into their technical verification tests.
“As a matter of fact, Starlink has cooperated with the American military many times.
“In 2019, SpaceX received funds from the US Air Force to test how well Starlink satellites can connect with military aircraft under encryption.
“In March 2021, it announced its plan to work with the US Air Force to further test the Starlink internet.”
The researchers argued that when the mega constellation is completed, Starlink satellites can then be equipped with reconnaissance, navigation and meteorological devices.
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They believed that the satellites would “further enhance the US military’s combat capability in such areas as reconnaissance remote sensing, communications relay, navigation and positioning, attack and collision, and space sheltering”.
In 2021 the number of satellites launched by SpaceX reached more than 2,000, which will communicate with ground-based transceivers.
Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world’s richest man has activated the satellites above Ukraine to grant Kyiv internet access as Russia attempts to block off all communication.
Chinese researchers feared that the US military could use Starlink satellites to track hypersonic missiles; dramatically boost the data transmission speeds of U.S. drones and stealth fighter jets; or even destroy Chinese satellites by ramming into them.
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The researchers, led by Ren Yuanzhen, a researcher at the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications said: “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.”
“Hard kill weapons include those like missiles that directly strike their targets, while soft kill methods involve disabling the satellites by jamming them or using laser weapons.”