Time has an article on the ramifications of China’s successful test of an anti-satellite weapon. The weapon intercepted an old weather satellite in high orbit (above 500 km) and smashed into it, using its kinetic energy to destroy the satellite. The result is a collection of debris that could harm other spacecraft and may take centuries to return to Earth.
Everything about this test is disturbing. The Chinese now can neutralize satellites in orbit as a prelude to a first strike against Taiwan — and undoubtedly they’ll be willing to sell this technology to the highest bidder. It’s not all that far-fetched to imagine a rogue state like North Korea destroying the GPS network by targeting key satellites. Such a scenario has profound ramifications for US national security.
The Bush Administration has been drawing up plans for the use of such weapons for some time — and this recent development explains why. It has never been a question whether military technologies would be used in space, but when. The United States cannot afford to be caught flat-footed in this future battlefield. An anti-satellite weapon like the one used by China could cause untold disruption to the world economy and cripple the US military. The critics of these programs have accused the Administration of wanting to militarize space — when that development was inevitable. The question now is whether our crucial space-based infrastructure will be left vulnerable and this country subject to the results of an attack that could cripple our way of life. It’s clear that we cannot allow this to happen, and so long as nations like China develop anti-satellite weapons, a space-based arms race is inevitable.