Anti-Satellite Weapons: Threatening the Future of Space Activities

What Are Anti-Satellite Weapons?

At any given moment, there are thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth for commercial, civil, strategic, and military reasons.

Due to the importance of certain satellites for national security, countries have developed anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons that can be used to incapacitate or destroy satellites in orbit.

While some ASAT weapons use non-destructive means like cyberattacks or lasers to impair satellites, the destructive types often rely on high-speed physical collision to shatter satellites, creating negative repercussions for the space environment.

The above infographic from Secure World Foundation explains how destructive ASAT testing is hindering outer space and adding to the increasing space debris in Earth’s orbits.

The Impact of Destructive Anti-Satellite Weapons

When destructive ASAT weapons collide with satellites, they can create thousands to millions of pieces of debris that can orbit the Earth for decades at extremely high speeds.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the destruction of a single 10-ton satellite can generate:

  • 8 to 14 million debris pieces between 1mm and 1cm in size
  • 250,000 to 750,000 debris pieces between 1cm and 10cm
  • 5,000 to 15,000 debris pieces greater than 10cm

The debris from destructive ASAT testing adds to the 8,800 metric tons of space debris that’s already floating around in space. Since space debris can travel at speeds up to 29,000km/h (roughly 8km/s), even millimeter-sized fragments are massive threats to other objects in orbit.

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