The deployment of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in space is prohibited on the basis of the treaty that entered into force on October 10 1967.
As of October 2011, the agreement was signed by 100 countries, another 26 of the states signed this agreement, but did not complete the process of ratification.
The main prohibiting document: the Outer Space Treaty, the full official name is the Treaty on the Principles of State Activities in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies (an intergovernmental document).
The Space Treaty, signed in 1967, defined the basic legal framework for modern international space law. Among the basic principles that were laid down in these documents, there is a ban for all member countries on the deployment of nuclear weapons in space or any other weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons are forbidden to be placed on Earth orbit, on the Moon or any other celestial body, including aboard space stations. In addition, this agreement provides for the use of any celestial bodies, including the natural satellite of the Earth, only for peaceful purposes. It directly prohibits their use for testing all types of weapons, building military bases, structures, fortifications, as well as conducting military maneuvers. However, this treaty does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in Earth orbit.
Currently, there are a huge number of military spacecraft in Earth orbit - numerous observation, reconnaissance and communications satellites, the American GPS navigation system and the Russian GLONASS. At the same time, there are no weapons in Earth orbit, although attempts have been made to place it in space many times. Despite the ban, projects to deploy nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in space were considered by the military and scientists, and work in this direction was carried out.
Space opens up both active and passive uses of space weapons for the military. Possible options for the active use of space weapons:
- the destruction of enemy missiles on the trajectory of their approach to the target (missile defense);
- bombardment of enemy territory from space (the use of high-precision non-nuclear weapons and preventive nuclear strikes);
- disabling the enemy’s electronic equipment;
- suppression of radio communications over large areas (electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and “radio silence”);
- the defeat of the enemy satellites and space orbital bases;
- defeat remote targets in space;
- destruction of asteroids and other space objects dangerous for the Earth.
Possible options for the passive use of space weapons:
- providing communication, coordinating the movement of troop groups, special units, submarines and surface ships;
- surveillance of the territory of a potential enemy (radio interception, photography, detection of missile launches).
At one time, both in the United States and in the USSR very seriously approached the design of space weapons, from guided space-to-space missiles to original space artillery. Thus, in the Soviet Union, warships were created — the Soyuz reconnaissance, the Soyuz Interceptor (1962 − 1965 years), the Soyuz 7К-VI (“Zvezda”), a multi-seat military research manned spaceship equipped with HP-23 automatic cannon (1963 − 1968). All these ships were created as part of the work on the creation of the military version of the Soyuz spacecraft. Also in the USSR, the option of building an OPS, the orbital manned station Almaz, was considered, to which it was also planned to install an HP-23 23-mm automatic cannon, which could shoot in a vacuum. At the same time from this gun in space really had time to shoot.
Mounted on the Almaz orbital station, the ND-23 gun designed by Nudelman-Richter was a modification of a high-speed tail gun from a Tu-22 jet bomber. At the Almaz OPS, it was intended to protect against satellite inspectors, as well as enemy interceptors at a distance of up to 3000 meters. To compensate for recoil when firing, two cruise engines for 400 kgf were used, or rigid stabilization engines for 40 kgf were used.
In April, 1973 was launched into space station "Almaz-1", it is "Salyut-2", and in 1974, the first flight of the station "Almaz-2" ("Salyut-3") with the crew took place. Although there were no enemy orbital interceptors in Earth orbit, the station still managed to test its artillery weapons in space. When the station’s service life approached the end of 24 on January 1975 of the year, the projectile queue was launched in front of its orbit from HP-23 against the orbital velocity vector, in order to establish how the shooting from the automatic gun would affect the dynamics of the orbital station. The tests then ended successfully, but the age of space artillery on this, one might say, will end.
However, all these are just “toys” compared to nuclear weapons. Before the signing of the Treaty on Space in the 1967, both the USSR and the USA managed to conduct a whole series of high-altitude nuclear explosions. The beginning of such tests in space is dated 1958 year, when in an atmosphere of strict secrecy in the United States began to prepare for operations under the code name "Argus". The operation was named after the all-seeing hundred-eyed god from ancient Greece.
The main objective of this operation was to study the impact of the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion that occurs in outer space, on communications equipment, radars, electronic equipment of ballistic missiles and satellites located on earth. At least that was what the representatives of the American military department said later. But, most likely, these were passing experiments. The main task was to test new nuclear charges and to study the interaction of plutonium isotopes, which were released during a nuclear explosion, with the magnetic field of our planet.
Thor ballistic missile
In the summer of 1958, the United States conducted a series of tests of three nuclear explosions in space. For the tests used nuclear charges W25 power 1,7 kilotons. A modification of the X-17A ballistic missile created by Lockheed was used as delivery vehicles. The length of the rocket was 13 meters, diameter - 2,1 meters. The first rocket launch was 27 August 1958 of the year, a nuclear explosion occurred at an altitude of 161 km, 30 August an explosion was organized at an altitude of 292 km, and the last third explosion 6 of September 1958 year at an altitude of 750 km (according to other 467 km data) above the ground . It is considered the most high-altitude nuclear explosion in a short history similar tests.
One of the most powerful nuclear explosions in space is the 9 exploded on July 1962 of the United States on the Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. The launch of a nuclear warhead on board the Thor rocket as part of the Starfish tests was the latest in a series of experiments conducted by the US military for four years. The consequences of a high-altitude explosion with a power of 1,4 megatons were quite unexpected.
Information about the test leaked to the media, so in Hawaii about 1300 kilometers from the site of the explosion, the population was waiting for the heavenly "fireworks". When the warhead exploded at an altitude of 400 kilometers, the sky and the sea lit up for a moment the strongest flash, which was like the noon sun, after which for a second the sky turned a light green color. In this case, the inhabitants of the island of Okhau observed far less pleasant consequences. On the island, street lighting suddenly went out, residents stopped receiving a signal from a local radio station, and the telephone connection was disrupted. The work of high-frequency radio communication systems was also disrupted. Later, scientists found that the explosion of the "Starfish" caused the formation of a very strong electromagnetic pulse, which had tremendous destructive power. This impulse has covered a huge area around the epicenter of a nuclear explosion. For a short time, the sky above the horizon changed color to blood red. Scientists have been looking forward to this particular moment.
During all the previous high-altitude tests of nuclear weapons in space, a cloud of charged particles appeared, which after a certain time were deformed by the magnetic field of the planet and stretched out along its natural belts, outlining their structure. However, no one expected what happened in the following months after the explosion. Intense artificial radiation belts caused the failure of 7 satellites that were in low near-earth orbits - this was a third of the entire space group that existed at that time. The consequences of these and other nuclear tests in space are the subject of the study of scientists to this day.
In the USSR, a series of high-altitude nuclear tests were carried out between October 27 1961 and November 11 1962. It is known that during this period 5 nuclear explosions were carried out, of which 4 were conducted at low near-earth orbit (space), another one in Earth's atmosphere, but at high altitude. The operation was carried out in two stages: autumn 1961 of the year (“K-1” and “K-2”), autumn 1962 of the year (“K-3”, “K-4” and “K-5”). In all cases, the P-12 rocket, which was equipped with a detachable warhead, was used to deliver the charge. Missiles were launched from the Kapustin Yar test site. The power of the explosions ranged from 1,2 kilotons to 300 kilotons. The height of the blast was 59, 150 and 300 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. All the explosions were carried out in the daytime, in order to reduce the negative impact of the flash from the explosion on the retina of the human eye.
Soviet tests solved several problems at once. Firstly, they became the next reliability test for a nuclear-powered ballistic launch vehicle - the P-12. Secondly, the operation of the nuclear charges themselves was checked. Third, the scientists wanted to find out the striking factors of a nuclear explosion and its impact on various types of military equipment, including military satellites and missiles. Fourthly, the principles of building the Taran anti-missile defense system, which provided for the destruction of enemy missiles by a series of high-altitude nuclear explosions in their path, were being worked out.
Ballistic missile P-12
In the future, such nuclear tests were not conducted. In 1963, the USSR, the USA and the UK signed a treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons in three environments (under water, in the atmosphere and in outer space). In 1967, the ban on nuclear tests and the deployment of nuclear weapons in space was further specified in the adopted Space Treaty.
However, at present, the problem of placing conventional weapons systems in space is becoming ever more acute. The question of finding weapons in outer space inevitably leads us to the question of military dominance in space. And the essence here is extremely simple, if one of the countries in advance places their weapons in space, they will be able to gain control over it, and not only over it. The formula that existed back in 1960, “Who owns the cosmos, owns the Earth” does not lose its relevance today. The deployment of various weapons systems in outer space is one of the ways to establish military and political dominance on our planet. That litmus paper, which can clearly demonstrate the intentions of countries that can be hidden behind the statements of politicians and diplomats.
Understanding this is alarming for some states and pushes them to respond. For this, both asymmetrical and symmetrical measures can be taken. In particular, the development of various PSS - anti-satellite weapons, about which many people write today in the media, has expressed many opinions and assumptions on this subject. In particular, there are proposals to work out not only a ban on the deployment in space of conventional weapons, but also on the creation of anti-satellite weapons.
According to a report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in 2013 alone, over a thousand different satellites were operating in space, which belonged to more than 60 countries around the world and to private companies. Among them are very widespread and military space systems, which have become an integral part of a variety of military, peacekeeping and diplomatic operations. According to data published in the United States in 2012, 12 spent billions of dollars on military satellites, and the total cost of work in this segment could double by the 2022 year. The excitement of some experts is also caused by the American program with the X37B unmanned spacecraft, which many consider to be the carrier of high-precision weapons systems.
Understanding the danger of launching shock systems into space, the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China still 12 February 2008 jointly signed in Geneva a draft Treaty on the Prevention of Weapons Placement in Space, the Use of Force or the Threat of Force against various space objects. This treaty provided for a ban on the deployment of any type of weapons in outer space. Prior to this, Moscow and Beijing 6 have been discussing the mechanisms for implementing such a treaty for years. At the same time, the European draft of the Code of Conduct that deals with issues of space activities was presented at the conference and was adopted by the EU Council 9 in December 2008. Many countries involved in space exploration, positively evaluate the draft treaty and Code, but the United States refuses to tie their hands in this area by any restrictions.