Frustrated by the prospect of unencrypted internet accessible from any corner of the world where Starlink connection equipment is sent, Chinese Communist Party officials have asked military scientists for a plan to use nuclear explosions in space to destroy the Starlink satellite internet network, along with any other “unfriendly” communications satellites.
With just days gone since leader Xi Jinping’s reconfirmation for a third term at the helm of the PPC, plans are already emerging for a possible nuclear conflict with devastating strikes delivered from Earth orbit itself, with Chinese officials interested in how “powerful” anti-satellite weapons would be when triggered at different altitudes and with different nuclear payload powers.
Compared to nuclear explosions triggered close to the ground, those produced outside the Earth’s atmosphere have the “advantage” of resonating much better with the Earth’s magnetic field. At the same time, in the absence of a dense atmosphere acting as the grounding wire of a lightning rod, the electromagnetic pulse produced at the moment of detonation of the atomic bomb can propagate much further, instantly ‘frying’ any electronic device within a radius of several hundred kilometres.
Apparently, the purpose of the simulations required of Chinese scientists is to determine the optimal nuclear payload strength to achieve an “optimal” effect that would neutralize artificial satellites placed in orbits at different altitudes, possibly without destroying China’s critical communications infrastructure.
Such a nuclear explosion produced in a low orbit around the pear would turn air molecules into radioactive particles, resulting in a cloud shaped like an upside-down pear, say nuclear physicist Liu Li and colleagues in a paper published in the journal Nuclear Techniques on 15 October.
In about five minutes, the cloud could rise to an altitude of nearly 500 km and spread over an area of more than 140,000 square km, the ionizing radiation neutralizing any artificial satellites that were not designed to withstand such an attack.
“Residual radiation from the radioactive cloud can cause damage to spacecraft moving in it, such as satellites, or even cause direct damage that can lead to destruction,” the researchers said.
There have been many computer simulations studying the use of nuclear weapons against satellites, but most have focused on an explosion taking place in space, according to Liu’s team.
Unlike direct bombing of cities using nuclear weapons, detonations in space would not result in significant dispersion of radioactive particles at ground level. Instead, the high-energy particles generated by the event would be mostly captured by the Earth’s magnetic field and spread around the globe like a radiation belt, throwing humanity into the equivalent of the Dark Ages by gradually annihilating communications satellites and making Earth’s orbit a much more hostile environment for future generations of satellites.