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We can break this down into two categories:

  1. For internal security purposes, does the ISS have any type of weapon on board?

  2. For global security purposes, are there any orbiting weapons (that we know of)?

Obviously governments launch lots of top-secret payloads, so ignoring those for now.

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To my surprise, this doesn't seem to be a duplicate of any previous questions. I thought it might be, but for the better of me I can't find any matching questions. The closest one seems to be Is the Nudelman-Rikhter gun installed on Zvezda module? Also related: What types of items are prohibited on space missions? And food for thought: Top 10 Space Weapons and Wiki on Weapons in Space –  TildalWave Mar 17 '14 at 14:10
Haha yeah, same here. As soon as I posted it I thought to check for related questions. –  Stu Mar 17 '14 at 14:17
Spy and communication satellites are certainly components in weapons systems. If hacking computers is "cyber war" then such satellites would pretty much be the entire weapons system. Dr. Paul D. Spudis at LPI has claimed that Chang'E 2 which maneuvered from Lunar orbit to a lagrange point to an asteroid was a Chinese demonstration that they can go from satellite to satellite and destroy them at will, but he might be paranoid. thespaceshow.com/detail.asp?q=2173 –  LocalFluff Mar 17 '14 at 22:59
Just to get my name up in the list of people who commented :P Pretty much anything can be used as a weapon given the right motivation. LocalFluff's comment up there about manoeuvring the orbit is a case in point. –  Everyone Apr 30 '14 at 10:40

4 Answers 4

up vote 26 down vote accepted

There's a handgun on the Soyuz attached to the Space Station. Does that count?

The Outer Space Treaty forbids placing weapons of mass destruction in space. Other than that handgun on the Soyuz, that's about it. That handgun is a weapon of bear or wolf destruction, not a weapon of mass destruction.

This question is a bit tougher to answer when you consider the fact that anything moving at 17,000 mph can be a rather potent kinetic weapon. China and the US each blew up one of their own satellites as a demonstration of their prowess. If they could destroy one of their own, they can certainly destroy satellites belong to some other country. The Outer Space Treaty doesn't appear to address anti-satellite weapons.

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Beat me to it. According to a wikipedia page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TP-82), this weapon was a TP-82 up until 2006, but that they now use a different weapon. –  L0j1k Mar 17 '14 at 15:33
Kinetic anti-sat weapons could result in an extensive debris cloud. This would be a sort of a mutually assured destruction -- it could bar space to the aggressor as well as the victim. DARPA is proposing orbital maintenance/salvage sats: darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2013/01/22a.aspx If these devices could rendezvous and do maintenance, I expect they could also rendezvous and disable. Without creating a nasty cloud of orbital debris. –  HopDavid Mar 17 '14 at 15:42

The Soviet space station Salyut 3 used to have a gun (an aircraft autocannon) equipped on it (reference). This gun was partially responsible for deorbiting OPS-2.

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I found and added a reference. The references is used to support the Wikipedia article that also mentions this event. I am not familiar enough with the reference to assert it's reliability. Further research into the accuracy of the statement is encouraged. –  James Jenkins Mar 18 '14 at 10:33
Welcome to Space Exploration! I really find this interesting, that a space station had an entire cannon equipped on it. I see that you've linked a reference in your question, however would you mind drawing on some of the reference's key points and elaborating them here? It makes for a much more informative and interesting answer :) –  Vedant Chandra Mar 18 '14 at 15:43

Anything big enough in orbit can be used as a weapon due to its immense gravitational potential and kinetic energy. You can smash a satellite into another one as sabotage,the brilliant pebble project demonstrated here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brilliant_Pebbles#Brilliant_Pebbles) or just deorbit it for ground bombardment if you can calculate the trajectory well enough (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rods_from_god#Project_Thor).

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$E_\text{k} =\tfrac{1}{2} mv^2$ (hint: $v$ isn't volume / size) –  TildalWave Mar 17 '14 at 22:11
Hey there Zhehao, welcome to Space Exploration. Would you mind expanding your answer with some more information, perhaps examples of such weaponised satellites with some citations? –  Vedant Chandra Mar 18 '14 at 15:39

As David Hammen states in his answer, the Soyuz emergency landing survival kit included a gun, but, according to James Oberg, not any more.

For decades, the standard Soyuz survival pack included a deluxe all-in-one pistol called the TOZ 82 with three barrels and a folding stock that doubled as a shovel and contained a swing-out machete. There were a few dozen rounds of three types of ammunition—rifle bullets, shotgun shells and flares—in a belt attached to the gun.

TOZ 82 barrel

According to the article, the pistol is still on the official list of kit contents, "But before every mission we meet to review that list and vote to remove it for this specific flight."

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