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I am often asked where I learn about new things and subjects to write about. My answer is to write a lot, you have to read a lot. One of my regular sources is CircleID, a leading platform for Internet developments with more than 5,200 professional participants worldwide. They have published a few of my blog posts.

An interesting article this week was “A Brief Primer on Anti-Satellite Warfare Tactics”. The article was timely as the national security people rang a warning bell about what the Russians may be doing which could jeopardize satellites of other countries. The author of the article was Rob Frieden. Frieden is Professor of Telecommunications and Law at Penn State University. He holds a B.A., with distinction, from the University of Pennsylvania (1977) and a J.D. from the University of Virginia (1980). He has held senior policy making positions at the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He has written several books and dozens of journal articles. As part of his work, Frieden knows a lot about satellites.

 Before highlighting a few key points from Frieden’s primer on warfare tactics, I’ll provide an overview about satellites. As of January 3rd, 8,377 active satellites were orbiting Earth, according to the satellite tracking website “Orbiting Now“. Satellites serve a wide range of purposes, including:

  • Communication: Providing internet access, phone connectivity, and television signals.
  • Earth observation: Monitoring weather patterns, environmental changes, and natural disasters.
  • Navigation: Supporting GPS systems for navigation and location services.
  • Scientific research: Studying the Earth, space, and celestial objects.
  • Military applications: Intelligence gathering, communication, and navigation for military operations.

Satellites orbit Earth at different altitudes and inclinations, categorized into various types:

  • Low Earth Orbit (LEO): Up to 2,000 km above Earth, ideal for communication satellites due to lower latency. This is what the SpaceX Starlink program uses. They have 5,400 satellites in orbit. Yes, more than half of the total satellites in orbit are LEOs launched by SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.
  • Medium Earth Orbit (MEO): 2,000 km to 35,000 km above Earth, often used for navigation satellites.
  • Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO): 35,786 km above Earth, appearing stationary from the ground, suitable for use in communications and weather.
  • Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO): Elliptical orbits with varying altitudes are used for various applications like remote sensing and military purposes.

Frieden expanded on the usage,

Satellites make it possible for governments to provide essential services, such as national defense, navigation, and weather forecasting. Private ventures use satellites to offer highly desired services that include video program distribution, telecommunications, and Internet access. The Russian launch of a satellite, with nuclear power and the likely ability to disable satellites, underscores how satellites are quite vulnerable to both natural and manmade ruin.

The Russian launch is a tremendous threat. Disabling of satellites can evaporate billions of dollars in value. If the satellites were broken into pieces, the result would add to space debris, which is already presents a significant risk of collisions with satellites. If the Russians use a nuclear power source, Frieden says that would extend the available time in space and probably the maneuverability of the satellite. Frieden also says the Russian threat likely violates a U.N. treaty-level Russian commitment to keep space nuclear-free. Unfortunately, the U.N. document lacks any enforcement option and based on history, Russia would characterize its technology as a source of operational power and propulsion, not weaponry.

The list of how ground-based weapons or orbiting satellites can destroy satellites is long. Frieden has written about this extensively. It is not a pretty picture. Frieden said, “Despite global consensus to promote peaceful uses of outer space for the benefit of everyone, the stakes have increased that space will become “weaponized” as a new theater of warfare.” Hence, the national security alert.

There is more about space in Reflection Attitude – Current, Past, and Future.

Note: I use Gemini AI and other AI chatbots as my research assistants. AI can boost productivity for anyone who creates content. Sometimes I get incorrect data from AI, and when something looks suspicious, I dig deeper. Sometimes the data varies by sources where AI finds it. I take responsibility for my posts and if anyone spots an error, I will appreciate knowing it, and will correct it.