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The US and China are developing weapons systems capable of destroying satellites in space. “This kind of weapon is a game changer,” says a senior Israeli defense official. Israel has reportedly deployed numerous spy and communication satellites.

Experts first looked up and gazed into space with concern in the 1990’s, when two satellites collided in space. Both satellites, one Russian and one American, crashed into one another and shattered to thousands of pieces which created a huge cloud of debris. This cloud is being monitored by ground radar stations. At the time, the concern had been raised this cloud of debris may damage the international space station, so measures have been taken in case its location should be modified to avert any of wreckages.

The satellites that had collided were a US satellite which was part of the Iridium communication system and was launch in 1997, and a Russian satellite that was launched in 1993. The two collided without any time for alert from the ground. Only after the collision, the cloud of debris was picked up by ground stations which began closely monitoring its progress.

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In 2009, a missile fired from an American vessel destroyed an old American satellite which the Pentagon claimed had went out of control. The Standard missile, launched from a US Navy ship, hit the satellite while in space at an altitude of over 200 km.

The Americans explained intercepting the satellite was vital since its debris posed a risk they would reach Earth and cause damages and casualties. The greatest hazard to the potential impact area is posed by its Hydrazine tank, as it is highly poisonous. Each satellite has a Hydrazine tank, as this gas is sued for repairs while in orbit. When the gas runs out, the satellite begins its slow “death”, as it can no longer be repaired and its orbit can no longer be adjusted. It loses altitude until it finally reaches the Earth’s atmosphere and burns.

The Americans expressed their high satisfaction with the satellite’s interception, yet in many places worldwide, Israel included, and it raised many questions. The Chinese and the Russians are certain the interception was designed to show them the US is capable of hitting their space-borne systems. In early 2007, the Chinese too destroyed one of their old satellites.

Ever since, experts in Israel say both the US and China are busy developing an operational capability to destroy satellites. These efforts are totally under wraps as this capability would only be deployed in so-called “extreme conditions”.

Experts say that according to the known scenario, there are currently two methods to destroy satellites. One is using a “buster”, another satellite on a collision course with the target satellite. The second method is to launch a missile from the ground or from a vessel.

Arie Egozi iHLS editor-in-chief
Arie Egozi
iHLS editor-in-chief