The Increasing Reality of War in Space

Wendover Productions
6 Mar 202428:30

Summary

TLDRThe video transcript provides an insightful exploration of the growing militarization of space and the implications of potential conflicts in this domain. It delves into the offensive capabilities being developed by major space powers, such as kinetic and non-kinetic anti-satellite weapons, and the vulnerability of critical satellite constellations. The script highlights the importance of space assets for modern society and the devastating consequences of a space war, drawing parallels with nuclear warfare. It also discusses defensive strategies like the U.S. Department of Defense's 'Strategy on Protection of Satellites' and the need for international efforts to prevent an escalating arms race in space.

Takeaways

  • 😮 The militarization of space is progressing rapidly, with major powers like the US, Russia, and China developing offensive space capabilities such as kinetic and non-kinetic anti-satellite weapons.
  • 🛰️ Satellites are highly vulnerable targets in space warfare due to the lack of defensive geography and their trackable nature.
  • 💥 Even minor conflicts in space could trigger a catastrophic chain reaction of debris, potentially rendering entire orbits unusable.
  • 🧨 The parallels between space warfare and nuclear warfare are uncanny, with the potential for mutually assured destruction if offensive capabilities are not controlled.
  • ⚠️ The consequences of unrestrained space warfare could cripple many sectors of the global economy that rely on satellite services like GPS, weather forecasting, and internet connectivity.
  • 🚀 The US Department of Defense is pursuing an "architecture resilience" strategy, deploying massive constellations of low-cost satellites to ensure redundancy and resilience against attacks.
  • ✨ Space offers immense economic and scientific potential, with innovations like automated drug manufacturing in microgravity, which could be jeopardized by unchecked militarization.
  • 🌍 International cooperation and non-proliferation efforts are crucial to prevent conflicts in space and preserve the shared asset of Earth's orbits for peaceful purposes.
  • 🔍 The full extent of each nation's space warfare capabilities remains largely unknown due to the secrecy surrounding these programs.
  • 💼 The legal framework governing space warfare, such as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, is outdated and lacks comprehensive guidelines for regulating conventional weapons in orbit.

Q & A

  • What is the significance of the establishment of the United States Space Force in 2019?

    -The establishment of the United States Space Force in 2019 marked a new era of militarization of space, as it signified the recognition of space as a potential battlefield by the United States.

  • What were some of the early incidents that highlighted the potential for conflict in space?

    -Some early incidents that highlighted the potential for conflict in space included Russia's direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon test in 2021, and the cyberattack on ViaSat satellite internet provider during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which disrupted communications for the Ukrainian military.

  • Why is orbital space around Earth so valuable, both economically and militarily?

    -Orbital space around Earth is valuable because it provides a vantage point above the ground, which allows for various applications like weather forecasting, navigation, internet connectivity, and TV broadcast. Additionally, it offers strategic military advantages for surveillance and communication.

  • How do different orbital altitudes affect the capabilities of satellites?

    -Different orbital altitudes have different characteristics and are suited for different applications. For example, geostationary orbits (at around 22,223 miles from Earth) allow satellites to remain stationary relative to the Earth's surface, making them ideal for applications like television broadcasting. Lower orbits, such as those used by Starlink, provide lower latency for applications like internet connectivity.

  • What makes military satellites vulnerable, despite their secrecy?

    -Despite the secrecy surrounding military satellites, they are vulnerable because their locations are trackable, making them easy targets for potential attacks from earth or other satellites.

  • What are the two main categories of offensive space weaponry, and what are some examples of each?

    -The two main categories of offensive space weaponry are kinetic weapons (physical collision, e.g., direct-ascent missiles) and non-kinetic attacks (rendering satellites unusable, e.g., cyberattacks, jamming). Examples of kinetic weapons include direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles and satellite-to-satellite collisions. Non-kinetic attacks include cyberattacks like the one on ViaSat and potential electronic warfare capabilities.

  • Why is the militarization of space considered a potentially devastating development?

    -The militarization of space is considered a potentially devastating development because it threatens the valuable civilian and commercial applications that rely on satellites, and could lead to a cascading effect of debris creation, rendering entire orbits unusable.

  • What is the US Department of Defense's strategy for protecting its satellite capabilities?

    -The US Department of Defense's strategy for protecting its satellite capabilities is focused on "architecture resilience," which involves deploying large constellations of satellites in low-Earth orbit, so that no single satellite is crucial, and the loss of a few satellites would not significantly diminish the overall capability.

  • How does the economics of space warfare compare to traditional warfare?

    -Unlike traditional warfare, space warfare has no defensive geography, and satellites are relatively easy and inexpensive targets. However, the consequences of space warfare could be devastating, as it could render entire orbits unusable and cripple various sectors of the economy that rely on satellite capabilities.

  • What are the potential parallels between space warfare and nuclear warfare?

    -The potential parallels between space warfare and nuclear warfare include the concept of mutually assured destruction, as well as the need for non-proliferation efforts to prevent an escalating arms race. Additionally, the consequences of space warfare could be similarly devastating to those of nuclear warfare, albeit in different ways.

Outlines

00:00

🌍 The Birth of the Space Force and Militarization of Space

This paragraph discusses the establishment of the United States Space Force in 2019 and the initial reactions from various comedians, mocking the idea of a 'Space Force'. It then describes a Russian missile test that destroyed one of their own satellites, marking a significant step towards potential warfare in space. The paragraph also mentions a cyberattack by Russia on satellite internet provider ViaSat during the invasion of Ukraine, disabling communications for the Ukrainian military. It concludes with the first physical conflict in space when Israel intercepted a Houthi missile from Yemen at an altitude of over 100 miles.

05:02

⭐ The Value and Economics of Orbital Space

This paragraph explains the value and importance of orbital space, both economically and strategically. It discusses the different orbits (geostationary, low earth, etc.) and their respective characteristics and applications, such as satellite television, internet connectivity, and weather forecasting. The paragraph highlights the economic justification for companies like DirecTV to invest in expensive geostationary satellites and the efficient use of limited resources by meteorological organizations. It also touches on the optionality of different orbits for various applications.

10:06

🛡️ The Secrecy and Vulnerability of Military Satellites

This paragraph focuses on the secrecy surrounding military satellites and their inherent vulnerability. It discusses the lack of public information about the purpose and function of many US military satellites, while their locations are still trackable. The paragraph mentions the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and its limitations in regulating conventional weapons in space. It highlights the vulnerability of crucial satellites like GPS and the potential consequences of their disruption or destruction. The paragraph also touches on the cost and importance of these satellites, emphasizing their status as sitting ducks due to the lack of defensive geography in space.

15:08

⚔️ The Offensive Space Capabilities of Major Powers

This paragraph discusses the offensive space capabilities of major powers like the United States, Russia, and China. It divides these capabilities into kinetic weapons (physical collision) and non-kinetic attacks (rendering satellites unusable without collision). The paragraph mentions known tests and demonstrations of direct ascent attacks, co-orbit intercepts, and rendezvous and proximity operations by different countries. It also touches on the potential use of robotic arms and projectiles as offensive weapons in space. The paragraph emphasizes the rudimentary nature of these capabilities but highlights the staggering implications of using them, including the potential for a domino effect of debris creation and the risk of mutually assured destruction in space.

20:12

🛰️ The Future of Space Warfare and Defensive Strategies

This paragraph discusses the future of space warfare and defensive strategies employed by countries like the United States. It mentions the DOD's "Strategy on Protection of Satellites" and the concept of "architecture resilience," which involves deploying massive constellations of satellites to mitigate the impact of individual satellite losses. The paragraph describes the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture system and its planned expansion, emphasizing the low cost and redundancy of such systems. It also highlights the benefits of satellites for various sectors and the potential consequences of crippling these abilities through space warfare. The paragraph draws parallels between space militarization and nuclear proliferation, emphasizing the need for non-proliferation efforts to prevent devastating consequences.

25:15

🌐 The Implications of Conflict in Space and the Need for Solutions

This paragraph reflects on the interesting and relevant topic of conflict in space and its growing implications for earthly geopolitics. It suggests watching related videos from the creators Real Engineering and Real Life Lore on Nebula, a subscription-based platform that allows for in-depth and unrestricted coverage of such topics. The paragraph promotes Nebula as a more sustainable and creator-friendly model compared to ad-supported platforms. It encourages viewers to support creators by subscribing to Nebula using a provided link and offers a discounted subscription rate.

Mindmap

Keywords

💡Space Force

The United States Space Force is a new branch of the U.S. military, established in 2019 by President Donald Trump. The video highlights how its establishment was met with laughter and ridicule by various comedians and talk show hosts, underscoring the initial public perception of it as a comedic idea. However, the video goes on to emphasize the growing importance and militarization of space, justifying the need for a dedicated military branch to protect U.S. interests and assets in orbit.

💡Anti-satellite weapons

Anti-satellite weapons, or ASAT weapons, are designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military advantages. The video discusses both kinetic (physical collision) and non-kinetic (cyber, electronic warfare) ASAT capabilities being developed by major space powers like the U.S., Russia, and China. Examples cited include Russia's direct-ascent ASAT missile test in 2021 and the cyberattack on Viasat's satellite network during the Ukraine invasion, which disrupted Ukrainian military communications.

💡Orbital space

Orbital space refers to the region around Earth where satellites orbit. The video emphasizes the immense value of this orbital region, both economically (for civilian applications like GPS, weather monitoring, and internet connectivity) and strategically (for military surveillance and communication). Different orbits, like low Earth orbit and geostationary orbit, offer varying advantages and are suited for different purposes, making control over orbital space highly coveted by nations.

💡Space debris

Space debris, or orbital debris, refers to the countless fragments of human-made objects orbiting Earth. The video highlights how ASAT tests and satellite collisions contribute significantly to the growing amount of space debris, creating a potential chain reaction of collisions that could render entire orbits unusable. The increasing militarization of space intensifies the risk of creating more debris, endangering both military and civilian satellites vital for modern life on Earth.

💡Space warfare

Space warfare refers to the extension of military conflicts into the realm of space. The video discusses the potential for a new era of warfare involving offensive and defensive operations targeting satellites and other space-based assets. Examples include the development of offensive capabilities like satellite-mounted robotic arms, projectile-launching satellites, and cyberattacks on satellite networks. The implications of widespread space warfare are likened to the risks of nuclear warfare, with the potential for mutually assured destruction if vital orbital infrastructures are compromised.

💡Satellite constellations

Satellite constellations refer to groups of multiple satellites working together to provide a particular service or capability. The video cites examples like the GPS constellation operated by the U.S. Space Force and the proposed Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, a planned massive constellation of communication and missile-tracking satellites. Such large constellations aim to provide redundancy and resilience against potential attacks, as the loss of individual satellites would not significantly degrade the overall system's performance.

💡Outer Space Treaty

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is an international agreement that establishes principles and guidelines for the peaceful exploration and use of outer space. The video mentions Article IV of the treaty, which prohibits the placement of nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies. However, the treaty does not explicitly address the use of conventional weapons in space, leaving a legal ambiguity that has contributed to the current militarization of space by various nations.

💡Space economics

Space economics refers to the financial and economic considerations surrounding space-based activities and industries. The video highlights the immense costs associated with developing and launching satellites, such as the $1.4 billion spent on the GPS IIF satellite series. It also discusses the economic viability of satellite services like DirecTV, which rely on the unique capabilities of geostationary orbits to efficiently serve large geographic regions. The potential disruption of space-based services could have severe economic consequences for numerous industries.

💡Satellite tracking

Satellite tracking refers to the ability to monitor and follow the movements and positions of satellites in orbit. The video emphasizes that while the purposes and operators of many satellites remain classified or unknown, their physical locations can be tracked by various means. This trackability makes satellites highly vulnerable targets in potential conflicts, as their orbits and positions are not truly secret. Satellite tracking is essential for both civilian and military applications, such as collision avoidance and strategic planning.

💡Space exploration

Space exploration refers to the study and exploration of outer space, including the development of technologies and missions to advance human understanding and presence beyond Earth. While the video primarily focuses on the militarization of space, it also acknowledges the immense scientific and technological benefits derived from space exploration efforts. Examples include the potential for automated drug manufacturing in microgravity environments and the ongoing exploration of celestial bodies like the Moon and Mars.

Highlights

In 2021, Russia conducted the first destructive test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon, destroying one of its own satellites and creating space debris.

In the same year, Russian cyber operatives used stolen credentials to disable the ViaSat satellite internet network used by the Ukrainian military during the invasion of Ukraine.

In 2023, a Houthi ballistic missile launched towards Israel was intercepted by an Israeli missile at an altitude of over 100 miles, marking the first physical conflict in space.

Orbital space around Earth is extremely valuable for various applications like weather forecasting, navigation, internet connectivity, and TV broadcast.

The geostationary orbit at 22,223 miles altitude is particularly valuable as satellites in this orbit appear stationary relative to Earth, enabling efficient coverage.

Military satellites are often kept secret, with their purposes and operators unknown to the public, highlighting the secrecy and vulnerability of space assets.

The United States operates around 200-300 satellites for the Department of Defense, but the exact number and purposes are not publicly known.

In 2022, SpaceX launched four secret satellites for the U.S. military along with a commercial satellite, demonstrating the secrecy surrounding military space activities.

The GPS satellite constellation is crucial for the U.S. military and civilian applications, yet it consists of only 30 satellites, making each one a critical and vulnerable asset.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits nuclear weapons and military installations on celestial bodies but does not address conventional weapons in orbit, leaving a legal gap.

The United States, Russia, and China are the major space powers with growing offensive space capabilities, including kinetic (physical) and non-kinetic attacks on satellites.

Countries have demonstrated the ability to conduct earth-to-space attacks on satellites, and there are concerns about space-to-space attacks by maneuverable satellites.

China and Russia have launched satellites with robotic arms and projectile capabilities that could potentially target other satellites.

Space warfare could lead to a devastating domino effect of debris, rendering entire orbits unusable and crippling essential services on Earth.

The U.S. Department of Defense is developing a Strategy on Protection of Satellites focused on resilient architectures with large constellations of low-cost satellites to mitigate the impact of attacks.

Transcripts

00:00

On December 20th, 2019, President Donald Trump established the United States Space Force.

00:07

This was hilarious.

00:10

Stephen Colbert had a field day: “Space force…

00:15

spaaaaace force…

00:17

[laughs.]”

00:18

And Jimmy Kimmel: “Space force…

00:21

[laughs]… that was not a scene from a movie that was real.”

00:26

And James Corden: “The space force, I’m not joking [laughs.]”

00:30

And Trevor Noah: “Space force…

00:32

[laughs]…

00:33

I don’t even know, I don’t even know where to start.”

00:36

And even Steve Carrel in his Netflix show entirely dedicated to satirizing the Space

00:42

Force: “Space force…

00:45

[laughs.]”

00:46

But then this happened. 

00:50

That was a Russian A325 Nudol hypersonic missile.

01:00

It launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the nation’s far north, and what this moment

01:04

represented was Russia’s first destructive test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon.

01:11

Observers knew that it was always a question of when, not if the nation developed and deployed

01:16

weaponry designed to destroy enemy satellites, but now that moment had arrived: even if they

01:22

only destroyed their own satellite, the world took a step closer towards war in space.

01:29

Six months later, it took another step.

01:31

A mere hour before Russian convoys crossed the border and began their invasion of Ukraine,

01:36

cyber operatives used stolen credentials to log into a virtual private network run by

01:41

satellite internet provider ViaSat—the very same satellite internet provider the Ukrainian

01:46

military used for their battlefield communications.

01:49

The operatives then used this access to push out a piece of Malware dubbed AcidRain to

01:53

ViaSat modems around Europe, therefore disabling the network, and in consequence, blinding

01:59

the Ukrainian military when they needed coordination most.

02:03

This represents perhaps the most extreme instance yet of a military disabling space-based assets

02:09

during a conflict. 

02:10

Then, the year after that, in 2023, Houthi militants in Yemen fired a Ghadr-110 ballistic

02:16

missile, almost certainly supplied to them by Iran, towards the southern Israeli town

02:21

of Eilat.

02:22

The Israeli Defense Forces successfully detected this launch so they fired an Arrow 3 missile

02:26

to intercept it.

02:28

The point at which this interception happened, leading to the destruction of the Houthi missile,

02:32

was more than 100 miles or 160 kilometers above the surface of the earth meaning that

02:38

this was the very first time in history that any physical aspect of any military conflict

02:44

has ever occurred in space.

02:47

But it certainly will not be the last. 

02:50

Fundamentally, that’s because space is valuable.

02:54

In particular, the part of space that is most valuable today—both economically, in a civilian

03:00

context, and strategically, in a military one—is the orbit directly around earth.

03:04

And the reason why orbital space is valuable is really the same reason why towers exist:

03:11

sometimes, for a lot of different reasons, getting a vantage point above the ground is

03:16

useful.

03:17

Earth’s orbit is a platform.

03:19

Putting something further away from the ground means it has line-of-sight with more of it.

03:24

This allows this something to either observe more of earth or communicate with more of

03:28

earth, and this has plenty of applications that now permeate through everyday life: weather

03:33

forecasting, navigation, internet connectivity, TV broadcast.

03:37

Crucial cogs of the modern world rely on the platform the orbit around earth provides. 

03:42

But it’s specifically orbit, not just space, that unlocks many of these capabilities.

03:48

And what a satellite can do has to do with where, very specifically, it is.

03:52

An orbit 10,000 miles from earth will have entirely different characteristics than one

03:57

20,000 miles from earth.

03:58

That’s because the closer an object is to earth, the higher the gravitational pull,

04:03

and therefore the faster a rotational speed it needs around earth to balance out the gravitational

04:09

pull—that’s how satellites avoid getting sucked in by earth’s gravity and falling

04:13

through the atmosphere. 

04:14

If a satellite is around 150 miles above earth, it needs to move at about 17,000 miles per

04:20

hour.

04:21

If a satellite is 22,223 miles away, however, it only needs to go 7,000 miles per hour.

04:28

That particular speed translates to a very particular duration for the satellite to complete

04:32

a full trip around earth: 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds.

04:38

That is the exact same amount of time it takes for the earth to complete a full rotation

04:42

relative to a fixed point, rather than the sun since earth is simultaneously orbiting

04:46

around the sun.  

04:48

Therefore, with the same rotational speed as earth, a satellite 22,223 miles away will

04:53

never move from the perspective of earth—as long as it's placed on the equator, it’ll

04:58

always stay right above that point. 

05:02

This is extremely useful from an economic standpoint since getting satellites to orbit

05:06

is extraordinarily expensive.

05:09

DirecTV, for example—the American satellite television provider—is estimated to have

05:13

spent $300 or $400 million per satellite.

05:17

But this could be justified from the get-go because they used geostationary orbits.

05:21

When the company launched its first, DirecTV-1, it parked it exactly 22,223 miles above the

05:28

Galapagos Islands—specifically, 91.1 degrees west of the prime meridian.

05:34

Notably, the mean center of the population of the US—as in, the average place Americans

05:39

lived—sat approximately 91.4 degrees west of the prime meridian in 1993, when the satellite

05:44

was launched, meaning this very particular point in the sky gave the company the best

05:49

vantage point to the most number of Americans at the time.

05:52

If geostationary orbits were not possible, the economics of this and plenty more satellite

05:57

applications would never have worked since the company would’ve required multiple satellites

06:01

circling the earth just to provide the same level of service in the one geographic region

06:05

in which they operate. 

06:07

Predictably, this narrow slice of space is incredibly busy.

06:11

ViaSat, for example, placed its first satellites in this orbit so they could initially focus

06:16

on coverage for the high demand region including North America, Europe, and the ocean in between,

06:20

rather than using resources less efficiently to cover regions with fewer aircraft, ships,

06:25

and other customers.

06:27

Meteorological organizations like NOAA or the Japan Meteorological Agency use geostationary

06:31

orbits to stretch their limited resources as far as they can, gaining observational

06:35

coverage over the specific area of the world most relevant to forecasting in their particular

06:41

countries. 

06:42

But what compounds the value of orbits is the optionality.

06:45

Satellites have successfully orbited as little as 104 miles above earth—as in, a mere 200th

06:51

the distance of those geostationary satellites.

06:54

This sort of low earth orbit is useful for applications where, rather obviously, one

06:59

want to be close to earth.

07:00

SpaceX’s Starlink system was able to pioneer more competitive satellite internet through

07:04

placing satellites just 342 miles or 550 kilometers from earth.

07:09

That’s because ViaSat’s geostationary orbits are so far from earth that it takes

07:13

over 600 milliseconds for a signal to transmit from earth, to the satellite, to a ground

07:18

station, to the satellite, and back.

07:20

That length of time is notable to a user and inhibits uses that rely on speed like video

07:25

calls.

07:26

Thanks to proximity, Starlink is able to do this same process in between 25 to 100 milliseconds

07:31

which is almost imperceptibly slower than that of traditional land-based internet.

07:35

But of course, there’s a lot of space between a couple hundred miles and 22,223.

07:42

That means there’s an incredible spectrum of capabilities possible.

07:46

After sorting through the tradeoffs, one can get whatever vantage point on earth one wants.

07:50

And if there’s anyone that loves a good vantage point, it’s militaries. 

07:55

The very principles that make satellites so useful for widespread internet or TV or radio

08:01

service make them even more useful for military communication.

08:05

The very principles that make satellites so useful for meteorological observation or earth

08:09

imaging make them even more useful for military surveillance.

08:13

And perhaps most usefully, space is still such a frontier that what militaries do there

08:18

is almost entirely secret. 

08:21

The United States Department of Defense operates around 200 or 300 different satellites, but

08:27

it’s notable that we don’t know the exact number.

08:30

Any satellite can be tracked, meaning we do know the exact location of every single satellite,

08:35

but that doesn’t mean we know who operates the satellite or what it does.

08:39

But rocket launches are still rather newsworthy and conspicuous events so this knowledge can

08:44

usually be gleaned through the correlation between a launch and the tracking of satellites

08:48

leaving the launch vehicle in space.

08:50

But if the public isn’t told what a satellite does or who owns it, it just simply doesn’t

08:55

know. 

08:56

On June 6th, 2022, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying a communications

09:02

satellite for the company Globalstar, but then something weird happened.

09:06

The rocket’s first stage booster went and landed on the SpaceX Autonomous Spaceport

09:10

Drone Ship, rather than returning to its original launch site.

09:13

But SpaceX only needs to use the drone ship when the booster doesn’t have enough fuel

09:17

left to navigate back to the launch site, and it only lacks the fuel in the event of

09:21

a heavy payload or a further destination.

09:23

But in this case, the Globalstar satellite was a fairly light 1,500 pounds and it was

09:28

only going to low earth orbit, so the booster shouldn’t have used so much fuel.

09:33

Next, in the livestream, viewers noticed this—an extra payload adapter: as in, what’s used

09:40

to attach satellites to the rocket during launch.

09:43

But nothing was on it, and the Globalstar satellite was still there.

09:47

To confirm their suspicions, amateur satellite observers calculated a hypothetical orbit

09:51

zone, went to their telescopes, and found them: four secret satellites. 

09:57

More than a year later, that’s still just about everything the general public knows

10:01

about these four satellites: simply that they exist.

10:05

It’s believed they’re DOD operated under the designations USA-328 through 331, but

10:11

we’ll likely never find out anything more.

10:14

Eventually, they’ll deorbit, burn up in the atmosphere, and their secrets will die

10:19

with them.

10:20

And this is hardly an anomaly: about half of US military satellite launches in recent

10:24

years have come with zero info on their purpose or function, while even with the other half,

10:29

it's possible the military gave limited or misleading information.

10:33

This degree of secrecy, and especially the degree of confidence in the persistence of

10:37

the secrecy, is simply unparalleled.

10:39

But it does come with a fundamental trade-off.

10:42

The public might not know what a satellite does, but they do know where it is, which

10:47

makes military satellites so incredibly vulnerable. 

10:51

Take, for instance, GPS satellites.

10:54

And, take for instance, this specific launch on February 5, 2016.

10:59

Propelled by an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, the launch of GPS IIF-12 went off without

11:05

a hitch, just like the 11 IIF launches before it.

11:08

Today, eight years on, IIF-12, or USA-266, is still hovering at least 12,416 miles or

11:16

19,982 kilometers above earth in a semi-synchronous orbit that sees the satellite fulfill one

11:21

rotation of the planet every 12 hours.

11:24

That’s to be expected, as it’s still within its life cycle of 12 years.

11:28

But it’s also an incredibly good thing, an incredibly important thing, because this

11:33

satellite along with the other 10 functional satellites of its class are absolutely vital

11:38

for the American GPS constellation—making up a plurality of the 30 GPS satellites that

11:43

the US operates.

11:44

No matter where one looks, the global positioning system is serving a vital function: whether

11:50

that’s synching the timing on financial transfers or guiding the machinery that harvests

11:53

the food that we ultimately eat.

11:55

And it’s used by practically everything: in 2019, there were 900 million GPS receivers

12:01

in the US, a number that in 2024 must now be well over a billion.

12:07

Yet to its operator, the US Space Force, these civilian applications are but an ancillary

12:12

benefit of the system designed for their own military use.

12:15

GPS is just massively important.

12:19

And yet, it hinges on the operability of just 30-odd satellites, making each the most critical

12:25

of cogs. 

12:26

Out of sight, out of mind, and perpetually taken for granted, IIF 12 and its 10 remaining

12:32

classmates aren’t only important, they’re also expensive.

12:36

Currently in the golden years of their lifecycle, the development and delivery of these 12 satellites

12:41

cost $1.4 billion, they took a decade for Boeing to deliver, and because of delays and

12:46

cost overrun, there were only 12 ever built, not the 33 anticipated.

12:51

At once they’re invaluable and extremely expensive.

12:53

They’re also sitting ducks. 

12:57

Unlike in traditional warfare, space has no defensive geography to maximize—no towering

13:02

mountain ranges, no endless oceans, no impenetrable forests, no freezing winters.

13:07

There’s only the matter of providing enough thrust to enter orbit, and enough communication

13:11

capabilities to maintain control once in orbit.

13:15

From there, in the most literal sense, there’s no hiding: even the most secretive or dark

13:20

satellites are trackable.

13:22

Thus, satellites, whether high or low, geostationary or not, equipped with propulsion systems or

13:28

not, represent the easiest target imaginable. 

13:31

This was always obvious.

13:34

So much so that we recognized where we’d end up today all the way back in 1967, during

13:37

the height of the space race as the abilities of intercontinental ballistic missiles ascended,

13:42

when the world’s nation’s came together at the UN to write this concise document:

13:47

the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

13:50

It was a nod to the fact that as technology advanced, and as the world’s two major powers

13:55

remained at odds, that warfare would extend upward.

13:59

So it laid ground rules.

14:02

For issues of conflict, warfare, and nuclear weapons in space, there’s article IV, which

14:06

outlines that no nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction shall be harbored in space

14:10

and that there shall not be any military installments or maneuvers on the moon or any celestial

14:15

bodies.

14:16

It's a start; but the problem is article IV’s only two paragraphs, and says nothing about

14:21

placing conventional arms in orbit.

14:24

So, should the time come that tensions begin to rise between major world powers with increasingly

14:29

advanced space programs, there’s really no ground work to limit any sort of build

14:33

up, or protect any sort of orbital infrastructure upon which so much of society depends on.  

14:38

For the United States, the world’s preeminent space power, such legal, technological, and

14:43

geographical vulnerability has been masked by the fact that, for decades, it and its

14:47

direct allies were the only countries with consistent access to space in the first place.

14:51

But this is changing quickly. 

14:55

Most recently, space warfare has manifested in mainstream news through this story: a not-entirely

15:00

clear, not entirely unclassified reference to a Russian satellite with a nuclear element

15:04

of somesort, be it the power source or the payload.

15:08

While a captivating headline that’s stoked popular imagination, space has been on the

15:12

way toward full militarization for well over a decade—transforming from the next logical

15:17

battlefield in theory, to simply the next battlefield.  

15:21

Thanks to the mix of advancing technology, rising geopolitical tension, and easier access

15:26

to space than ever, there’s now a big three in space: the US, Russia, and China.

15:31

And all are building out their offensive capabilities. 

15:35

This offensive space weaponry is split into two broad categories: kinetic weapons, those

15:40

that physically collide with satellites, and non-kinetic attacks, those that render them

15:44

unusable by non-invasive means.

15:46

Now, we don’t know the full capabilities of any country’s space arsenal, kinetic

15:51

or non-kinetic, as these are still highly secretive projects, but occasionally the world

15:56

gets a peek behind the curtain with what the instigating nation calls a test, and the rest

16:00

of the world calls a show of force. 

16:02

What became well understood with the launch of Russia’s direct ascent test in 2021 was

16:07

that all the world’s major space powers—Russia, the US, and China had now proved proficient

16:12

in earth-to-space attacks.

16:14

In the wake of the massive and dangerous debris left by the Russian test, the US declared

16:19

that it would no longer test direct ascent attacks.

16:22

But it did, for its part, successfully carry out such a test in 2008 when it launched a

16:27

conventional missile into orbit to destroy its own malfunctioning satellite.

16:31

China has also proved such capabilities when, a year earlier, it too intercepted one of

16:36

its own satellites with a missile.

16:38

What’s less understood—thanks to the unparallelled secrecy afforded by the space frontier—and

16:43

therefore more cause for concern between military planners, are the offensive capabilities of

16:47

each nation’s satellites themselves.

16:51

The US doesn’t have an explicitly titled and operational anti-satellite program of

16:55

any sort, but it has proved it can attack from earth, and it can intercept such objects

17:00

in space.

17:01

As early as 1987, in low earth orbit, the US has shown the capability of co-orbit intercept—basically

17:06

a space to space attack—when a second stage rocket was able to intercept another domestic

17:12

satellite.

17:13

More recently, and far higher up, Chinese researchers tracking the movement of their

17:16

own geostationary satellites noticed something suspicious: an American satellite hot on two

17:22

recently launched Chinese satellites’ tails.

17:25

While simply tagging along, the observation that US satellite’s have been tailing other

17:29

far off ones shows that the US has the capability to maneuver and survey satellites at basically

17:34

all possible distances.

17:36

In this, the US is not unique, as China and Russia too have made close passes by one another’s

17:42

satellites with their own Rendezvous and Proximity Operation, or RPO, satellites. 

17:47

Of course, with machines as delicate and fragile as satellites, optimized for weight above

17:51

all else, nearby observation can feel unnervingly like an attack as it just takes one aimed

17:57

propulsion and one collision to turn a satellite into space junk.

18:02

But ramming’s a crude, one for one proposition.

18:06

So: satellites that can fight.

18:09

China’s Shijian series of satellites have come equipped with robotic arms—a function

18:13

that US Defense reports say could well double as a possible offensive weapon.

18:18

Not to be outpaced in the space arms race, Russia, in 2019, launched what the rest of

18:23

the world deemed an offensive satellite in the form of Kosmos 2542.

18:27

Seemingly an unspectacular launch of an unspectacular satellite, no one paid much mind to the November

18:33

19th takeoff.

18:34

That was until December 9th, when a smaller subsatellite, Kosmos 2543, launched from the

18:40

vehicle while in space.

18:43

Observational in nature, the satellite seemed, it still wasn’t a big deal.

18:47

But then in July of 2020, the satellite launched a projectile.

18:52

While the object didn’t hit any satellite, Russian or otherwise, the international community

18:57

labeled it a weapon on account of its rapid relative speed.

19:01

Satellites inside of satellites, arms on satellites, and satellites as projectiles themselves have

19:07

all taken to space in the last decade, and these are just the capabilities we’re aware

19:12

of.    

19:13

Taken together, these offensive capabilities still seem fairly rudimentary—targeted strikes,

19:18

ramming, grappling—out of context, this could be considered wrestling strategy.

19:23

But the implications of using any such capability are nothing short of staggering.

19:29

Space warfare, from a strategic perspective, could easily devolve into a race to the bottom.

19:35

Without any real defense, what's to stop a one for one response to an attack on a satellite?

19:40

More distressing, once one satellite is attacked, there’s really no saying what that now space

19:46

junk is going to bash into.

19:48

This is a graph of all known debris hurtling around in space.

19:52

And these massive upticks, well, they just so happen to align with China’s direct ascent

19:56

test here, a satellite collision here, and Russia’s direct ascent test here.

20:01

From just this Russian test, producing a relatively minor amount of debris in comparison to China’s,

20:07

astronauts in the ISS were forced to take shelter and prepare to escape in two shuttles

20:11

as a precaution that a piece of debris might rip through the station.

20:15

With just this test, one expert estimated that the chance of a mission terminating collision

20:20

in low earth orbit doubled.

20:22

And should such a collision occur, well, then there’s even more debris to account for,

20:27

creating not a one-to-one domino effect, but an exponential domino effect, where the debris

20:31

from one satellite knocks out two, the debris from which, in turn, knocks out four, before

20:36

eventually, there’s simply too much debris to possibly work around.

20:40

It’s exactly here where space warfare, rather than a less bloody alternative to traditional

20:46

warfare, begins to develop parallels to nuclear warfare and rudimentary seeming weapons start

20:51

to conjure ideas of mutually assured destruction.

20:56

Much like nuclear warfare, then, offensive capabilities simultaneously act as defensive

21:00

deterrence, but of course, so do defensive ones.

21:04

And so in 2023, the US DOD developed and declared their “Strategy on Protection of Satellites.”

21:10

The core of it really is to just not worry too much about any individual satellite.

21:15

Put another way, their focus is on so-called “architecture resilience.”

21:20

The Space-Based Infrared System, for example, is an absolutely crucial capability for the

21:25

US military.

21:26

It’s their primary space-based system for detecting and tracking missile launches all

21:30

around the world.

21:31

But the constellation providing this capability is rather small and vulnerable: it’s made

21:36

up of six geostationary satellites for primary coverage, and four in highly elliptical orbit

21:41

to cover the polar regions.

21:43

That’s why on February 14th, 2024, the DOD started replacing it.

21:49

A Falcon 9 rocket carried the first four missile tracking satellites of the eventually massive

21:54

Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture system.

21:56

They joined twenty communications satellites already in orbit—tasked with getting information

22:00

of missile launches from the tracking satellites to relevant parties on earth—making this

22:04

constellation already larger in quantity than its predecessor, but this is only what they

22:09

refer to as tranche 0.

22:12

The next phase of this project, slated to begin launching in late 2024, is expected

22:16

to include 126 communication satellites, 35 tracking satellites, and another 18 just for

22:23

testing new technology meaning, soon enough, just this one constellation will almost double

22:28

the Department of Defense’s satellite count, and then there’s already a tranche 2 planned

22:32

in 2026, a tranche 3 in 2028, and a tranche 4 in 2030.

22:38

With such a colossal constellation, no one part of it is crucial.

22:43

In fact, it would take a massive, coordinated, costly attack just to meaningfully diminish

22:48

its capability.

22:49

Yet, the cost of this system is not dramatically different from that of its predecessors since

22:54

it’s deployed in low-earth orbit which necessitates less powerful, less expensive, and more compact

23:00

instruments.

23:01

In fact, each of the constellation’s satellites costs just $15 million to build and launch

23:06

which, in military satellite terms, is astonishingly low.

23:11

Therefore, low-earth orbits and massive constellation-counts are certainly the future of militaries in

23:17

space. 

23:18

But ultimately, the militarization of space is just flat-out a bad thing, exactly because

23:25

space is such a good thing.

23:27

We benefit so tremendously much from what satellites provide.

23:32

Whole sectors of the economy could not exist without what global positioning services provide.

23:37

Countless lives are saved through the added forecast accuracy meteorological satellites

23:42

provide.

23:43

The urban-rural technological divide is flattening due to the connection internet satellites

23:47

provide.

23:48

And the benefits are only accelerating—with each year, as launch costs lower and technology

23:53

improves, innovators find more and more ways to unlock the value earth’s orbit provides.

23:58

Just last month, for example, the first test of automated drug manufacturing in space concluded

24:03

with the capsule’s return to earth, marking the start of what many expect to be a pharmaceutical

24:07

revolution thanks to the unique production capabilities made possible by microgravity. 

24:13

Crippling these abilities would cripple earth.

24:16

There is a theoretical point at which a given orbit is so polluted with space junk that

24:21

it just becomes unusable.

24:24

Earth could lose the ability to use low earth or geosynchronous orbits.

24:29

It won’t be doomsday—in the long term there will be ways to work around it at higher

24:33

cost and with lower capability—but a shared asset of humanity will have been destroyed,

24:38

and it all would have been entirely avoidable. 

24:41

The parallels with nuclear militarization are uncanny.

24:45

It’s in everyone’s best interest to not arm militaries with nuclear weapons, but because

24:50

others have, others believe they must.

24:53

If Russia has anti-satellite capabilities, the US believes, as a measure of deterrence,

24:58

it must too. 

25:00

What the world is hopefully gaining an understanding of, as these risks shift from theory into

25:05

reality, is that war in space is the metaphorical nuclear option.

25:10

Just as we focus on nuclear non-proliferation, one must focus on the non-proliferation of

25:14

space weaponry which is potentially even tougher since the technology used is just so conventional.

25:21

Countries can and have used conventional missiles to perform anti-satellite tests meaning there’s

25:26

hardly even a way to ban the technology—as there is in the nuclear realm—only the practice.

25:31

There are countries with which one simply can’t reason with, like North Korea, that

25:36

have capable and growing conventional missile arsenals.

25:38

So it’s just not that hard to start a war in space, yet the consequences are just devastating. 

25:47

The answers on how to solve this conundrum simply are not there yet.

25:53

One can merely hope that all understand the implications of letting earthly conflict stretch

25:58

into the stars, and that mutually-assured-destruction in space remains a theoretical form of defense,

26:04

rather than a devastating reality. 

26:06

I was personally amazed how interesting the growing reality of conflict in space was as

26:14

a topic—I found it amazing how relevant such an inaccessible realm is becoming to

26:18

earthly geopolitics…

26:19

again, I suppose.

26:20

If you also found this interesting, then I’ve got a bunch of video suggestions for you.

26:25

First and foremost, Brian and his team at Real Engineering just put out a stunning and

26:29

fascinating three-part series about the Space Shuttle.

26:32

The Space Shuttle was crucial in lowering the effective distance to space, and a lot

26:36

of its technology is now getting applied to Chinese and American military Spaceplanes.

26:40

In addition to the three main videos, Real Engineering also released a full-length tour

26:44

of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and interview with a former Space Shuttle Mission Specialist

26:48

exclusively to Nebula.

26:50

Next, I’d suggest watching Joseph from Real Life Lore’s three-part series on the Russian

26:54

invasion of Ukraine.

26:55

At over 90 minutes of runtime, it goes into a level of detail you’ve almost certainly

26:59

never seen and gives crucial context on what role the Russian cyberattack against ViaSat

27:04

played.

27:05

The reason why Real Life Lore is able to cover conflicts in such depth is because Modern

27:09

Conflicts is a Nebula Original—YouTube has rather strict policies about how you can cover

27:13

conflicts in a way that restricts crucial depth.

27:16

And it’s hard to blame them for that because they have advertisers to appease that don’t

27:20

want to risk angering anyone, but Nebula doesn’t—it’s a subscription-based platform which we, the

27:25

creators, believe is just a better economic model for video streaming.

27:29

Not only are advertisements and sponsorships annoying to the viewer, but ad-supported platforms

27:33

incentivize views at any cost, rather than the best videos possible.