Space systems are vulnerable to a range of threats in outer space. Some of these stem from the space environment, such as space weather and debris, but others are intentional. As competition – particularly military competition – increases, the prospect of conflict is accelerating alongside counter-space capabilities to harm, interfere with, or negate the use of space-based systems, and efforts to afford them greater protection.

All parts of a space system are vulnerable to harmful interference. Satellite ground stations and communications links are common targets for space negation efforts, including electromagnetic attacks using radiofrequency energy to interfere with or jam satellite communications, and cyber-attacks using software and network techniques to interfere with computer systems that operate satellites.

Development and testing of terrestrial systems to use kinetic force or directed energy against satellites is accelerating. Such anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities are often embedded in other weapons systems, including anti-ballistic missile defense, and high-energy lasers. To date, no hostile antisatellite attacks have been carried out against an adversary. Neither has any hostile use of space-based—or co-orbital—ASATs been recorded, and to the best of our knowledge, no dedicated weapons systems aimed at Earth have been placed into orbit. But enabling technologies for such capabilities are advancing.

Satellite communications links, computer networks, and the physical components of satellite systems are difficult to protect. Reconstitution and resilience of a space system involve the ability to rapidly rebuild that system in the wake of a space negation attack or to maintain the ability to withstand an attack; both could reduce vulnerabilities in space. As well, there are nascent state and commercial initiatives for space-based satellite servicing.

Recent Issue Guides

Electromagnetic Interference with Space Systems

Click to Download Full DocumentIssue Guide Available for PDF Download (852KB) ABOUT The core function of satellites is to collect and relay data in real time. To transmit data to ground stations and receive information from ground stations, satellites must access and use radio frequencies from the electromagnetic spectrum. These…

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Space-Based Anti-Satellite Capabilities

A “space weapon” is generally defined as a space-based or co-orbital weapon system that strikes a target – either in space or on Earth – from orbit. Space-based weapons have been contemplated for decades, although only a few concepts have reached the development stage.
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Ground-Based Weapons: Kinetic Antisatellite Weapons

Click to Download Full DocumentIssue Guide Available for Full PDF Download (2182KB) ABOUT Although not often included in the category of “space weapons,” ground-based capabilities are the most common systems used to interfere with, damage, or destroy satellites. Ground-based antisatellite weapons (ASATs) direct kinetic, nuclear, or directed-energy force from Earth…

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