The Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), commonly known as the Star Wars defence system, was a proposed missile defence program initiated by the United States during the Cold War. Although it was never fully realized, some have speculated that elements of the program may have continued. There has been a belief that it went underground as part of what has been known as the secret space program or breakaway civilisation.
It was designed to use a combination of land-based and space-based systems to intercept and destroy incoming ballistic missiles, using lasers, particle beams, and other advanced technologies. One of the key components of the system was a constellation of 1000s of satellites that would orbit the Earth, providing early warning and tracking of incoming missiles. Obviously, if you want a program to remain secret the deployment of 1000s of satellites would draw attention, so a cover would need to made.
It is speculated that Starlink is providing this cover for the deployment of this system. Starlink is a satellite internet constellation designed and operated by SpaceX, the private space exploration company founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. The network consists of thousands of small, low-cost satellites that orbit the Earth, providing high-speed internet access to remote and underserved areas. While the stated goal of Starlink is to provide internet connectivity which indeed it does, some have suggested that the system may have other applications, including military and defense purposes.
One possible application of Starlink for defence is as a component of a missile defence system. The satellite network could potentially be used to detect and track ballistic missiles in flight, providing early warning to defense systems and enabling them to intercept and destroy the missiles before they reach their targets. The high-speed and low-latency connectivity provided by Starlink could also enable faster and more efficient communication between missile defence systems, making it easier to coordinate interception efforts.
In addition to missile defence, Starlink could also have other military applications. The satellite network could be used to provide secure and resilient communication channels for military operations, both on the ground and in the air. The high-speed internet connectivity could also enable real-time surveillance and intelligence gathering, providing valuable information for military planners and decision-makers.
This potential has even begun to be explored outside the secrecy of the secret space program. In 2019, the company was awarded a contract by the US Air Force to study the use of Starlink for military purposes, including the potential for providing secure and resilient communication channels for military aircraft.
One of the biggest areas of concern for the deployment of the star wars system is the feasibility of a laser that is powerful enough and small enough to shoot the missiles down from the ground and from space. Again, even in acknowledged weapons programs the technology is very close to achieving this kind of feasibility.
In the United States, the military has been developing a variety of laser weapons systems, including the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), which is a ship-based system that can shoot down drones and small boats, and the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), which is a ground-based system designed to shoot down rockets, artillery shells, and mortars. The US military is also developing a laser system called the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), which is designed to shoot down missiles. This is being developed with private companies such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Boeing.
Russia has also been developing laser weapons systems, including the Peresvet system, which is a ground-based laser weapon that is designed to destroy targets at long ranges. The Russian military has claimed that the Peresvet system is already in service, the system is said to be able to blind satellites up to 932 miles (1,500km)in space
The Star Wars program envisioned the use of both ground-based and space-based lasers for missile defence. The ground-based lasers were to be located on mobile platforms and were designed to shoot down incoming missiles in the boost phase, which is the initial stage of a missile’s flight when it is most vulnerable to interception. Space-based lasers, on the other hand, were to be mounted on satellites in low Earth orbit ( the orbit that SpaceX satellites are placed) and were designed to shoot down missiles during the midcourse phase, which is the portion of the missile’s flight after the boost phase and before it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Starlink satellites are relatively small compared to traditional communication satellites. Each Starlink satellite has a mass of approximately 260 kg (570 lbs) and measures about 4 meters (13 feet) wide and 1.2 meters (4 feet) tall. They are powered by solar panels and equipped with ion thrusters for orbital manoeuvring. The low weight and compact size of the Starlink satellites allow SpaceX to launch multiple satellites in a single rocket launch, which helps reduce the overall cost of the satellite network. The small size of the satellites also allows for more flexibility in terms of their placement in orbit and their ability to provide coverage in hard-to-reach areas.
Their small size would make it even more difficult to mount a Lazer although not all the Starlink satellites would need to deploy lasers as most are predominantly used for the accurate tracking of the objects. It would be a challenge to power a high-powered laser of the 8kw generated by the SpaceX satellite’s solar panels but there could be other satellites that are deployed for this purpose. There are also technical challenges associated with cooling as well as the need for high-quality optics and control systems.
One potential approach is to use fibre lasers, which are more compact and efficient than traditional solid-state lasers. Fibre lasers use a fibre optic cable as the lasing medium, which can be coiled to fit into a small space, some as small as a few centimetres. Although the power needed to destroy a missile would need to be larger. Another approach is to use semiconductor lasers, which are commonly used in consumer electronics and are known for their compact size.
There are several reasons why the US government might want to keep new weapons programs secret, including:
National security: One of the primary reasons for keeping new weapons programs secret is to protect national security. If details of a new weapons program were to become public, it could provide valuable intelligence to potential adversaries, who could use that information to develop countermeasures or find weaknesses in the system.
Competitive advantage: The US military is always looking for a competitive advantage over its adversaries, and keeping new weapons programs secret can help maintain that advantage. By keeping new weapons technology under wraps, the US military can surprise its enemies with new capabilities, giving it an edge on the battlefield.
Budget considerations: The development of new weapons programs can be expensive, and the US government may not want to reveal the true cost of these programs to the public or Congress. By keeping these programs secret, the government can avoid scrutiny or criticism over the cost of the program, at least until it is more developed.
Political considerations: New weapons programs can be controversial, and the US government may not want to reveal details about the program that could be seen as politically sensitive or unpopular. For example, if a new program involved the use of autonomous drones, there could be concerns about the ethics of such a system, which could lead to political backlash.
Strategic considerations: In some cases, the US government may keep new weapons programs secret to avoid tipping off potential adversaries about its strategic goals or plans. By keeping its weapons programs secret, the US can maintain an element of surprise and keep its adversaries guessing about its true capabilities and intentions.
I expressed in the article that the size of the original Star link satellites made me question their ability to be able to operate a sufficiently powerful laser. I have since become aware of the newer updated satellites that in my opinion even with known technology come into the realm of feasibility. The first batch will be 4 times as big as the original satellites. The next batch after that 8 times as big. Indeed the new ‘Starship’ rocket was developed for the very purpose of lifting these large satellites into space.
At launch, each Starlink V2 Mini satellite weighs approximately 1,760 pounds (800 kilograms), nearly three times heavier than the older Starlink satellites. Furthermore, these Mini satellites are larger, featuring a spacecraft body over 13 feet (4.1 meters) wide. This increased size allows them to occupy more space within the Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing during launch, as reported in regulatory filings with the Federal Communications Commission.
Once deployed from the Falcon 9 rocket, the Starlink V2 Mini satellites unfold two solar array wings, spanning about 100 feet (30 meters). In comparison, the original Starlink satellites possess a single solar array wing, resulting in a spacecraft length of approximately 36 feet (11 meters) once the solar panel is extended.
With these advancements, the Starlink V2 Mini satellites offer a substantial total surface area of 1,248 square feet, or 116 square meters, exceeding that of the previous Starlink V1.5 satellite by over four times.
SpaceX’s future plans include launching full-size Starlink V2 satellites, which will surpass the surface area of the Mini spacecraft by more than double, as stated in SpaceX’s filings with the FCC. These larger satellites will be launched using the powerful Starship rocket, which stands as the most formidable rocket ever constructed.