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Wikipedia indicates that the Salyut 3 was launched with a gun, which could have been used in self-defense or against other satellites, and which was actually tested after the last crew had departed in the Soyuz 15.

Is this the only example of a gun being deployed onboard a spacecraft? Elsewhere, Wikipedia indicates that the unflown OPS-4 station would have been equipped with a different space-to-space system, which would have fired missiles - but I have not come across any other such examples.

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Salyut 3 is the only publicly acknowledged space to space weapon that has been orbited. It's possible that there are others which have been deployed in secret. The outer space treaty does not prohibit the deployment of conventional weapons in space, there doesn't seem to be any hurry to do it though, which is a good thing.

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Space to Space weapons seemed like a good idea, but really isn't that great for orbiting spacecraft. First of all, what is the use case? It would only really work for spacecraft in a similar orbit. Let's imagine that a spacecraft is coming towards you. Firing weapons to destroy the spacecraft might lead to an impact in the firing spacecraft, destroying it. It sounds cool, and as much of the early space program lead to the desire to have such weapons, it has since been discarded as a useful idea.

Space.com has a list of the top 10 unclassified space weapons. Of these, the only non-theoretical weapon was that possessed by Salyut, or anti-satellite technology launched by ground based facilities. So for now, weapons in space have not been launched, beyond the Salyut mission.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does the "only really work for a spacecraft in a similar orbit" apply to non-projectile weapons - directed energy type weapons for example, or information weapons - spoofed software upgrades or silly attitude commands? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Aug 1 '16 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ Directed energy could work for non-similar orbits, but they could work better from the ground. In order to get those to work, you have to point precisely, know exactly where you are, and know exactly where your enemy is. Plus lasers are really heavy, hard to get in to space, at least the amount that could do any damage. Information weapons are also easier used from the ground, unless one plans to visit the spacecraft to hack it. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 1 '16 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh For a discussion on the latter, I recommend What would one need to do in order to hijack a satellite? on Information Security. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 1 '16 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling thanks - sounds scary - maybe I'll take a look, but I'm not sure I actually want to know the gory details. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Aug 1 '16 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto I see what you mean, yep! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Aug 1 '16 at 22:00

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