China Developing Weapon to Destroy Elon Musk's Starlink for 'National Security'
SpaceX's Starlink satellite network provides internet access to remote parts of the world
The Chinese Communist Party's military is developing a weapon to destroy the Starlink satellite network of Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX.
China's top scientists have been drawing up plans to destroy the satellite system due to claims that it poses a threat to Chinese national security.
SpaceX's Starlink satellite network provides internet access to remote parts of the world and was recently used to get Ukraine back online during Russia's invasion.
A paper published last month stated that China needs to develop capabilities to track, monitor, and destroy each and every Starlink satellite in orbit around the Earth if necessary.
Starlink's constellation system is made up of around 2,400 satellites.
The satellites relay in low-earth orbit that can beam super highspeed internet data anywhere on the planet.
The network has been hailed for providing superfast internet to developing countries and poorer regions of the Earth, but it also has potential military applications which Beijing is wary of.
The study was led by Ren Yuanzhen, a researcher with the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications under the PLA's Strategic Support Force.
Co-authors included several senior scientists in China's defence industry.
"A combination of soft and hard kill methods should be adopted to make some Starlink satellites lose their functions and destroy the constellation's operating system," the paper said, published in the domestic peer-reviewed journal Modern Defence Technology.
Musk's SpaceX has signed a contract with the US Department of Defense to use the Starlink platform for military purposes, including the development of sensitive instruments capable of detecting and tracking hypersonic weapons traveling at five times the speed of sound in the Earth's atmosphere - technology Beijing is known to be developing.
The thousands of Starlink satellites spanning the skies over the planet - with filings showing SpaceX plans to launch as many as 30,000 over the coming decade - are also equipped with ion thrusters that allow them to change orbits rapidly and transform into low-earth battering rams against high-value targets in space, Ren's team believe.
And Ren estimates that via a Starlink connection US military drones and stealth fighter jets could augment their data transfer one hundredfold, leading Beijing to conclude that the Starlink system - for all the benefits it can provide to the planet - is a potential threat to Chinese national security.
But destroying the network would be an extreme feat for Chinese military planners, as by its nature the network can afford to lose some satellites and continue to function.
Capabilities that Ren thinks China needs to develop include super-sharp space surveillance satellites to spy on the Starlink system, and capabilities to intercept and analyze the data being transmitted to pre-empt threats.
He also believes China needs to expand its satellite killing capabilities to more cost-effectively destroy multiple targets such as Starlink, although there would be a widescale risk of space debris that might impact other space functionality.
"The Starlink constellation constitutes a decentralized system," said the researchers without elaborating on the methods of attack.
"The confrontation is not about individual satellites, but the whole system.
"This requires some low-cost, high-efficiency measures."
According to openly available information, China has been developing numerous alternative anti-satellite technologies, including microwaves that can jam communications or burn electronic components.
Chinese scientists have also developed lasers for blinding or damaging satellites, nano-sats that can be launched in huge numbers to cripple bigger satellites, and cyber weapons to hack into the satellite communication network.
An unnamed Beijing-based space scientist said "the mainstream opinion, as far as I know, is that our countermeasures should be constructive.
"That means building our own internet satellite networks."
China has launched a similar project known as Xing Wang - StarNet – to provide internet access on a global scale.