Let's say someone pays for the shipping through an as yet unnamed commercial launch company. And they place something in orbit that is effectively a kinetic weapons platform. Or at least has the capacity to operate as one while having an alternative primary function.

Ignoring the illegality of shipping a weapon to space, I know that's illegal. But let's say this third party hands over control to another party. Is the ownership of that platform, once it's in orbit, in and of itself illegal?

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    $\begingroup$ Surprisingly, this seems to be a loophole in WMD law. It would be illegal to use and illegal to give to a foreign party, but I cannot find anything saying that it is illegal to possess. If it were nuclear, it would be, but since it is kinetic--it seems to be a grey area. That said, you would probably still draw the attention of the FBI: fbi.gov/investigate/wmd. And I'm pretty sure a judge would not look favorably on you if you went to court over it. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 10 '16 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ To be fair, the SpaceX Falcon 9 has demonstrated 2-4 meter accuracy landing a first stage, 5 times now. A 140 foot tall vehicle, on the order of 100,000 lbs, coming in on 100,000 lbs of thrust should really count as a kinetic weapons platform. I.e. Do NOT piss off Elon Musk, or 100,000 of angry thrust could land on your house/office. (Programming error, you know how it goes...) $\endgroup$ – geoffc Aug 10 '16 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ Giving new meaning to the saying "Walk softly and carry a very loud, very big, and very heavy stick". $\endgroup$ – geoffc Aug 10 '16 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ No, the US legal definition of WMD is ridiculously broad, and this unquestionably qualifies. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Aug 10 '16 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp Law may be able to answer this with greater fidelity, but space law is on topic here. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 10 '16 at 19:36

The legal definition of "Weapon of Mass Destruction" in US law is quite broad (see https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/04/definition_of_w.html ), and an orbital kinetic weapon definitely qualifies if the projectile is big enough to re-enter in one piece. The FBI and/or ATF will want to have a talk with the owner.

  • $\begingroup$ This is correct. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 10 '16 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ kinetic works around much the existing body of legislation cited here. and specific intent in design as a weapon appears to be attached to all remaining specific classifications. so a secondary unintentional function that would be capable of acting as a kinetic bombardment platform would potentially be legal? Although use could demonstrate intent... ? $\endgroup$ – Matt Joyce Aug 10 '16 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @MattJoyce Note that Russell did not say it would be illegal, just that the FBI would want to have a talk. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 10 '16 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ Any practical kinetic weapon would have a bore greater than a half inch and/or propellant charge of more than four ounces, and there's a "device similar to any of the devices described in preceding clauses" catch-all. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Aug 10 '16 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ The formulation of the question excludes consideration of how the weapon platform got there. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Aug 10 '16 at 21:17

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