Since launching the first Starlink satellites in 2019, SpaceX has placed more than 2,300 of them in low Earth orbit, with plans to reach 42,000 sets, forming a gigantic megaconstellation to cover a vast network of internet bandwidth across the world. . For China, however, the intentions of Elon Musk’s company have ulterior motives, which could pose a “threat to national security” for the country.
For this reason, Chinese military researchers are looking for a way to shut down Starlink, either by disabling the system or even destroying the satellites. Article published in the magazine China’s modern defense technology describes concerns and some proposals for action.
According to the document, the Starlink constellation has potential military capabilities, which the authors say could be used to track hypersonic missiles, dramatically increase the data transmission speeds of U.S. drones and stealth fighter jets, or even deliberately enter into collisions with Chinese satellites. .
“A combination of methods of kill hard and soft death should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation’s operating system,” said Ren Yuanzhen, a researcher at the Beijing Positioning and Telecommunications Institute, which is part of the Chinese army’s Support Force strategy.
Translated as “hard death” and “soft death”, the terms designate two categories of space weapons, the hard being weapons that physically hit their targets (like missiles) and the soft, soft related to jamming devices and laser weapons.
US says China has multiple methods to disable satellites
According to the US Department of Defense, China already has several methods to disable satellites, such as microwave jammers that can disrupt communications or burn electrical components, as well as millimeter-resolution laser equipment that can blind people, sensors, etc. , cyber weapons to hack broadcast networks. , and long-range anti-satellite missiles (ASAT).
However, the authors of the Chinese article claim that these measures, effective against errant satellites, will not be enough to destroy Starlink. “The Starlink constellation is a decentralized system. The confrontation is not about individual satellites, but about the entire system,” the researchers wrote, adding that an attack on the Starlink system would require “low-cost, high-efficiency measures.”
According to the website space.com, the document does not sufficiently specify what exactly these measures would be. Basically, the researchers propose that China build its own spy satellites to monitor Starlink, find new and improved ways to break into systems, and develop more efficient methods to eliminate multiple satellites in a decentralized network. This can be done through the deployment of lasers, microwave weapons, or smaller satellites that can be used to power Starlink satellites.
At the same time, China is also looking to compete directly with Elon Musk’s company, launching its own satellite network: Xing Wang, or Starnet, which also aims to provide global Internet access.
A report recently released by the US Department of Defense indicates that China has more than doubled its number of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) satellites since 2019, from 124 to 250.
At the beginning of 2022, China’s total number of satellites, including non-ISR ones, was 499, which places the country in second place in the ranking of nations with the most satellites in orbit. The first, obviously, is the United States, with 2,944 (taking into account Starlink).
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