Legal Insurrections readers may recall my report that the US Air Force is currently testing high-speed communications options to support their F-35A fighter jet in remote locations, and Starlink is one of those options being tested.
Furthermore, Starlink has been critical to Ukraine’s successful use of communications as it defends itself against Russia.
It appears that China fully appreciates the threat the novel communications technology poses to any plans for military action and space dominance it may have. Chinese military researchers are now interested in the development of a “hard kill” weapon to take down Starlink.
The researchers drew attention to Starlink’s “huge potential for military applications” and the need for China to develop countermeasures to surveill, disable or even destroy the growing satellite megaconstellation. Their paper was published last month in the journal China’s Modern Defence Technology. A translated copy of the paper is available here (opens in new tab).
Starlink is a broadband satellite internet network developed by Musk’s SpaceX company that aims to beam internet access to customers anywhere in the world (as long as they have a Starlink satellite dish to connect to the satellites). Since the first Starlink satellites were launched in 2019, SpaceX has put more than 2,300 of them into low-Earth orbit, and the company plans to send up to 42,000 satellites into space to form a gigantic megaconstellation.
The Chinese researchers were particularly concerned by the potential military capabilities of the constellation, which they claim could be used to track hypersonic missiles; dramatically boost the data transmission speeds of U.S. drones and stealth fighter jets; or even ram into and destroy Chinese satellites.
The first step in China’s grand scheme is to track each and every one of the Starlink satellites.
Ren Yuanzhen is the lead study researcher, and he works at Beijing’s Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications, which is under the People Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Strategic Support Force.
“A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation’s operating system,” read the recent paper. If this goes forward, it’s the first idea into practice about tracking such a large constellation — potentially, to destroy them.
Meanwhile, SpaceX’s Elon Musk has seen a surge in popularity in China — despite growing criticism after two Starlink satellites swooped precariously close to China’s space station in 2021. Yuanzhen thinks Starlink satellites could offer more than 100 times their data transmission speed to U.S. stealth fighter jets and military drones.
In the event of open war, those could become a critical asset — one that China might not like.
Meanwhile, Musk has revealed the first technical details about the company’s next-generation Starlink ‘Gen2’ satellite design, noting significant enhancements over the current generation’s capabilities.
Speaking in an onsite interview and Starbase tour with YouTuber Tim Dodd (The Everyday Astronaut), Musk – largely unprovoked – revealed that SpaceX has already built at least one functional Starlink Gen2/V2.0 satellite prototype and shipped it to the South Texas Starship factory, where it is currently being stored. More importantly, Musk also provided the first direct specifications for the next-generation spacecraft, stating that each Starlink V2.0 satellite will weigh about 1.25 tons (~2750 lb), measure about seven meters (~23 ft) long, and be almost an order of magnitude more capable than the “Starlink 1” satellites they’ll ultimately supersede.
…V2.0 satellites will be “almost an order of magnitude more capable than Starlink 1.” He refused to call that capability bandwidth or throughput, the traditional method of describing a communication satellite’s total performance, but Starlink V1.0 satellites are believed to have a total bandwidth of 18 gigabits per second (18 Gbps). As of today, it’s unknown if Starlink V1.5 – a significant upgrade – also added more bandwidth, nor if Musk was referring to that latest Starlink V1.x iteration. But even if he was comparing V2.0 with the earliest V1.0 satellites, it’s possible that each Starlink V2.0 satellite could add around 140-160 Gbps to the 30,000-satellite constellation.
Here’ hoping that Musk keeps the Starlink system from being added to the list of technology that has been stolen by China.
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