The launch of the PRC rocket with a kinetic warhead on board at an altitude of more than 864 kilometers successfully hit the outdated Chinese meteo-satellite "Fengyun-1С". The truth is worth noting that, according to ITAR-TASS, the Chinese managed to knock down the satellite only on the third attempt, and the two previous launches ended in failure. Thanks to the successful defeat of the satellite, China has become the third country in the world (along with the United States and Russia), which is able to transfer military operations into space.
There are quite objective reasons for dissatisfaction with such tests. Firstly, the wreckage of a satellite destroyed in orbit can be dangerous for other spacecraft in orbit. Secondly, the Americans have a whole family of military satellites in this orbit, which are intended for reconnaissance and targeting of high-precision weapons. China, on the other hand, clearly showed that it had mastered the means which, if necessary, were able to destroy the space grouping of a potential enemy.
It should be noted that various means of dealing with satellites began to work out from the very beginning of their appearance. And the first such tool was nuclear ammunition. The first in the anti-satellite race joined the United States. In June 1959, the Americans tried to destroy their own satellite Explorer-4, which by that time had developed its resource. For these purposes, the Bold Orion long-range ballistic missile was used in the United States.
In 1958, the United States Air Force entered into contracts for the creation of air-based experimental air-launched ballistic missiles. As part of this project, the Bold Orion rocket was created, the range of which was 1770 km. Bold Orion was not only the first long-range ballistic missile that could be launched from an aircraft, but also the first that was used to intercept a satellite. True, the Americans did not succeed in hitting the Explorer-4 satellite. The rocket launched from the B-47 bomber missed the satellite on the 6 km. Work within the framework of this project was carried out for another two years, but then they were finally terminated.
However, the idea of fighting with satellites in the USA was not abandoned. The military launched an unprecedented project called Starfish Prime. The apotheosis of this project was the most powerful nuclear explosion in space. 9 July 1962, the launch of a ballistic Thor missile equipped with a 1,4 megaton warhead. It was carried out at an altitude of approximately 400 km above the Johnson Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The flash that appeared in the sky was visible at a great distance. So she managed to capture on film from the island of Samoa, located at a distance of 3200 km from the epicenter of the explosion. On the island of Ohau in Hawaii, located in 1500 km from the epicenter, several hundreds of street lighting lamps, as well as televisions and radios, failed. The strongest electromagnetic pulse was to blame.
It is the electromagnetic impulse and the increase in the concentration of charged particles in the radiation belt of the Earth that caused the failure of 7 satellites, both American and Soviet. The experiment was “overfulfilled”, the explosion itself and its consequences knocked out a third of the entire orbital constellation of satellites in orbit at that moment. Among others, the first in stories Telestar 1 commercial telecommunications satellite. The formation of a radiation belt in the Earth’s atmosphere caused the USSR to make adjustments to the Vostok spacecraft manned flights program for two years.
However, such a radical means as a nuclear weapon did not justify itself. The first serious explosion in orbit demonstrated that such weapons are indiscriminate. The military realized that such a tool could cause considerable harm to the United States. It was decided to abandon nuclear weapons as a means of dealing with satellites, but work in the direction of anti-satellite weapons only gained momentum.
Soviet anti-satellite weapons development
The USSR approached the question much more "delicately." The first Soviet project that led to the experimental development of the idea was the launch of single-stage rockets from the aircraft. The missiles were launched from a height of 20 000 meters and bore charges - 50 kg in TNT equivalent. At the same time, guaranteed defeat of the target was provided only with a deviation of no more than 30 meters. But to achieve such accuracy in those years in the USSR simply could not, therefore, in 1963, work in this direction was curtailed. Missile tests for specific space targets were not carried out.
Other proposals in the field of creating anti-satellite weapons were not long in coming. At the time of the transition of manned flights from the Vostok spacecraft to the Soyuz spacecraft, S. P. Korolev began developing a space interceptor, designated as Soyuz-P. Curiously, the installation of weapons on this orbital interceptor was not planned. The main task of the crew of this manned spacecraft was to inspect space objects, primarily American satellites. For this, the crew of the Soyuz-P would have to go into outer space and disable the enemy’s satellite by mechanical means, or place it in a special container to be sent to Earth. However, this project was quickly abandoned. It turned out to be expensive and extremely difficult, as well as dangerous, primarily for astronauts.
As a possible option, the installation on the Soyuz of eight small rockets was also considered, the astronauts would launch from a safe distance of 1 km. The automatic interception station equipped with the same missiles was also developed in the USSR. Soviet engineering in 1960 literally hit the key, trying to find a guaranteed way of dealing with satellites of a potential enemy. However, designers often faced with the fact that the Soviet economy was simply not able to pull some of their projects. For example, the deployment in orbit of an entire "army" of fighter satellites that would rotate in their orbits indefinitely, being activated only at the time of the start of large-scale hostilities.
As a result, the USSR decided to stay at the cheapest, but quite effective option, which involved launching a fighter satellite into space, aimed at the object to be destroyed. It was planned to destroy the satellite by undermining the interceptor and hitting it with a fragmentation mass. The program was called "Satellite Fighter", and the interceptor satellite itself was designated "Flight." Work on its creation was carried out in the VN Chelomey OKB-51.
The satellite fighter was a spherical device weighing about 1,5 tons. It consisted of a compartment with an 300 kg of explosive and an engine compartment. In this case, the engine compartment was equipped with a multiple-start orbital engine. The total running time of this engine was approximately 300 seconds. During this period of time, the interceptor was supposed to move closer to the object being destroyed at a distance of guaranteed destruction. The skin of the Flying Satellite Fighter was made in such a way that, at the time of the explosion, it would disintegrate into a huge number of fragments flying at great speed.
The first attempt to intercept a space object with the participation of “Flight” ended in luck. 1 November 1968 of the year the Soviet interceptor satellite "Cosmos-249" destroyed the satellite "Cosmos-248", which had been launched into Earth orbit the day before. After that, even more 20 tests were conducted, most of which ended successfully. At the same time, starting from 1976, in order not to multiply the amount of space debris in orbit, the tests ended not with demolition, but with the contact of the fighter and the target and their subsequent vault from orbit using onboard engines. The created system was quite simple, reliable, practical and cheaply important. In the middle of the 1970-s, it was adopted.
Another version of the antisatellite system began to be developed in the USSR at the turn of the 1980s. In 1978, Vimpel Design Bureau began work on the creation of an anti-satellite missile, which was to receive a fragmentation warhead. The rocket was planned to be used from the fighter-interceptor MiG-31. Anti-satellite missile was derived to a predetermined height with the help of the aircraft, after which it was carried out under the enemy satellite. In 1986, the MiG design bureau began work on fine-tuning two interceptor fighters for equipping them with new weapons. The new version of the aircraft received the designation MiG-31D. This interceptor was supposed to carry one specialized anti-satellite missile, and its weapon control system was completely reconfigured to use it.
In addition to the special modification of the MiG-31D interceptor fighter, the anti-satellite complex developed by Almaz Design Bureau included the ground-based radar and optical detection system 45XX6 Krona, located on the Kazakh Sary-Shagan test range, as well as the 79XNNXX anti-satellite rocket system. The MiG-6D was supposed to carry only one 31-meter rocket, which could explode satellites at an altitude from 10 km using the detonation of a warhead. The coordinates of the satellites were to be transmitted by the Krona ground detection station. The collapse of the Soviet Union prevented the continuation of work in this direction, in the 120-s the project work was stopped.
Currently, the United States has at least two systems that, with some conventions, can be attributed to anti-satellite. This is in particular the Aegis sea-based system equipped with SM-3 missiles. This is an anti-aircraft guided missile with a kinetic warhead. Its main purpose - the fight against ICBMs that move along a suborbital flight path. The SM-3 rocket cannot physically hit targets at an altitude greater than 250 km. The 21 February 2008 of the year the SM-3 missile, which was launched from the cruiser Lake Erie, was successfully hit by an American reconnaissance satellite who lost control. Thus, space debris has increased in Earth orbit.
Approximately the same can be said about the US ground-based missile defense system under the designation GBMD, which is also equipped with missiles with kinetic warheads. Both of these systems are primarily used as anti-missile defense systems, but they also have a reduced anti-satellite function. The naval system was put into service at the end of the 1980-s, the ground system - in the 2005 year. There are also not unreasonable assumptions that Washington is working on the creation of new generations of anti-satellite weapons, which can be based on physical effects - electromagnetic and laser.
This also follows from the American strategy of deploying a new round of the arms race. At the same time, things did not start now, when relations between Russia and the United States were rather badly damaged. This stage was laid in the last decade, when US President Barack Obama announced his return to the program of space exploration for military purposes. At the same time, the United States refused to sign the UN resolution on “peaceful space” proposed by the Russian Federation.
Against this background, Russia should also work in the field of creating modern anti-satellite systems, and it does not necessarily have to be a laser weapon. So, back in 2009, Alexander Zelenin, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air Force, told journalists about the resuscitation of the “Kron” program for the same tasks for which it was developed in the USSR. Also in Russia, it is possible that tests are being conducted with interceptor satellites. At least in December 2014 in the USA discovered an unidentified object in orbit, which at first was mistaken for garbage. Later it was found that the object was moving along a given vector and approaching the satellites. Some experts suggested that we are talking about testing a miniature satellite with a new type of engine, but the Western media dubbed the discovered "baby" a satellite killer.