star link | Elon Musk’s satellites on China’s crosshairs

In the event of a conflict, China should have a way to neutralize SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellite, according to a new essay by military researchers from the Middle Kingdom. Elon Musk has donated thousands of Starlink receivers to the Ukrainian military and is developing anti-jamming capabilities to counter Russia.

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Mathieu Perreault

Mathieu Perreault
The Press

“The combination of destruction methods should be used to prevent some Starlink satellites from operating and destroying the constellation’s operating system. Translated by a retired American diplomat on his blog and picked up by some technology media, this essay from Chinese journal “Modern Defense Technology” is not surprising to Kaitlyn Johnson, who has been tracking anti-satellite weapons for half a dozen years.China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Paranoia

“In China, the entire space program is controlled at least indirectly by the government and military,” Ms.I Johnson, whose most recent report was in April. “In my discussions with Chinese civilians and officials, I see that for them it is the same for SpaceX.»

They are convinced that the American army is far from guiding Elon Musk’s choices.

Kaitlyn Johnson, Deputy Director and Researcher at CSIS

“Certainly not, because Starlink has limited use for the U.S. military. It’s an internet link that’s too weak and inaccurate,” he said.

Stability

Is it possible for China to cripple Starlink? “Not by destroying the satellites, it would be too much, even for the American army,” M said.I Johnson. We are already 2400, and there will be tens of thousands more. But there may be interference from other Chinese satellites. Right now, Russia is squeezing Ukrainian Starlink receivers from the ground, but for that you have to be very close.

“Elon Musk also announced that he is working on anti-jamming capabilities to help Ukraine,” he said.

The space “at the right time”.

Either way, the low cost of SpaceX launches makes it easier to replace destroyed satellites with Chinese missiles. The U.S. Army is also developing a “tactical launch flexibility” program (tactically responsive to launch), which is expected to receive $ 150 million in funding in 2023. “The idea is to immediately replace a satellite destroyed by the enemy,” M said.I Johnson.

In March, military research and development agency DARPA ended a competition launched in 2016. None of the 18 companies selected passed the test, which consisted of two launches in less than two weeks – with locations , payloads and orbits announced last time. minutes.

“The army is also making its own constellation of small internet satellites like Starlink,” M said.I Johnson.

Chinese ability

China is several years behind Starlink and SpaceX, says MI Johnson. “They have some projects for internet constellations and small launchers with the ability to react quickly, but the focus is mainly on large satellites and large launchers.»

The ABCs of Starlink

The first Starlink satellite, Elon Musk’s project announced in 2015, was launched in 2019. Internet coverage through Starlink is offered in 33 countries, and the first customers will be connected in early 2021.

Starlink satellites are in low orbit, 340 km away, and weigh just over 225 kg. This low weight allows for more frequent launching, which is required by low altitude. In fact, a satellite in very low orbit plunges back into the Earth’s atmosphere much faster. Each Starlink satellite has a lifespan of five years. This very low orbit also reduces communication delay, which has the advantage of improving internet signal quality.

Many astronomers are concerned, however, about the interference that tens of thousands of Starlink satellites will cause to observations from terrestrial telescopes.

Learn more

  • 400,000
    Number of Starlink customers in May 2022

    Source: Starlink

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