If you are having a good day then under no circumstances should you read the US Defense Intelligence Agency's Challenges to Security in Space1 (Information cutoff date, January 2019) linked in Axios' The rise of military space powers

From page 10:

Orbital Threats

Orbital Threats: Orbital or space-based systems are satellites that can deliver temporary or permanent effects against other spacecraft. These systems could include payloads such as kinetic kill vehicles, radiofrequency jammers, lasers, chemical sprayers, high-power microwaves, and robotic mechanisms. Some of these systems, such as robotic technology for satellite servicing and repair and debris removal, have peaceful uses but can also be used for military purposes.

Question: How many of these six military "orbital threat" techniques have been demonstrated in a (more or less) publicly recognized way? Here "more or less" means the owner of the technology does not have to acknowledge it, there just needs to be some publicly available fairly reputable source of information that this has taken place. The test could be under a "dual use" guise; for example a Chemical Sprayer weapon could be a robotic cubesat innocently spraying Windex® (or generic equivalent) rather than a fogging agent on a lens or window.

1and also don't read Space Threat Assessment 2020

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    $\begingroup$ Not possibly related in any way: Rocket Lab investigates rocket failure $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 23, 2021 at 3:37
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisB.Behrens I asked How vulnerable could space launch vehicles be to a “lone gunman”? September 2, 2016 and on October 2 (one month later): So, um, SpaceX is looking for a sniper that shot the rocket, maybe from a nest at top of competitor's building.. Space is hard; things fail and/or blow up all the time. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 23, 2021 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think laser and chemical are the only two that I haven't heard of. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2021 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ One ephemeral threat I'm surprised I haven't seen is the old "you make a better door than a window" trick -- just positioning between a satellite and its target to deny access on a temporary basis. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    May 24, 2021 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ Laser and mechanical ring bells for me. Mechanical because Northrop Grumman's MEV-1 and MEV-2 have demonstrated (and are still doing so) approaching, docking, and therefore taking control of, another satellite and then take it somewhere else. Publically this is extending the life of an otherwise 'dead' satellite (due to expended fuel). Laser rings a bell because of tests to optically blind satellites. I'm pretty sure both major agencies were testing that in orbit, i have a memory of reading about it, but I have no sources to link to. Ground based tests, for that purpose, tested definitely. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2021 at 11:28

1 Answer 1


The obvious answer: Kinetic Kill(ASAT). China, the US (and others) have demonstrated their capabilities to do this in real (the DIA report mentioned in the question discussed this). Although in these so-called "experiments", the exercise was to destroy one's own satellite with a missile (not sat-vs-sat as implied by the extracted illustration), the distinction between a missile, a rocket or a satellite used as a weapon is tenuous, the main difficulty being to predict exactly the trajectory of the target (assuming it does not have maneuverability). Beside the madness of such a move (a clear declaration of war), the environmental impact would be deleterious to mankind (the so-called "Kessler syndrome" popularized by the movie Gravity).

So, in most eventuality, to neutralize an opponent's space asset, w/o raising suspicion and worldwide condemnation, some more discrete techniques are needed. Spraying chemicals is rather a joke, unless you know how to navigate (quickly?) your little spraying can close to you opponent's asset w/o raising suspicion. A better idea, if time and patience is on your side, is to neutralize an orbit, or an altitude range: just maneuver your little satellite(s) to the orbit(s) you want to neutralize, then pretend to inadvertently 'lose' some parts there and let the Kessler syndrome do its work. I would call this "dropping nails on a highway". It won't work well for higher orbits.

Anyway, this question leads me to advocate for some form of binding international law quickly to protect our Near-Earth space before it is too late. Today the space-capable nations are playing with fire and it is jungle's law.

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    $\begingroup$ Were those kinetic kills from satellites, as the question asks, or by earth based missiles (China 2007)? $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    May 23, 2021 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Stack Exchange! In addition to that, "Just Google the term 'ASAT test'" is not a proper Stack Exchange answer. You need to google yourself and cite and quote the sources you've found. You can have a look around at other answers in the site to see how this is standard, or even see the amount of work I put in to supporting the question with sources. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 23, 2021 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred, everything man-made that goes to space is "from the ground". So, the distinction between a missile and a satellite is hard to understand for me. The initial question, to my understanding is just a threat to a space asset. $\endgroup$
    – Ng Ph
    May 23, 2021 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @NgPh the question asks about threats from orbit; orbital threats. "Orbital or space-based systems are satellites that can..." $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 23, 2021 at 15:17

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