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Chinese Military Planning to Target Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites

Chinese Military Planning to Target Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites

Meanwhile, Musk reveals next-generation Starlink satellite details.

Legal Insurrections readers may recall my report that the US Air Force is currently testing high-speed communications options to support their F-35A fighter jet in remote locations, and Starlink is one of those options being tested.

Furthermore, Starlink has been critical to Ukraine’s successful use of communications as it defends itself against Russia.

It appears that China fully appreciates the threat the novel communications technology poses to any plans for military action and space dominance it may have.  Chinese military researchers are now interested in the development of a “hard kill” weapon to take down Starlink.

The researchers drew attention to Starlink’s “huge potential for military applications” and the need for China to develop countermeasures to surveill, disable or even destroy the growing satellite megaconstellation. Their paper was published last month in the journal China’s Modern Defence Technology. A translated copy of the paper is available here (opens in new tab).

Starlink is a broadband satellite internet network developed by Musk’s SpaceX company that aims to beam internet access to customers anywhere in the world (as long as they have a Starlink satellite dish to connect to the satellites). Since the first Starlink satellites were launched in 2019, SpaceX has put more than 2,300 of them into low-Earth orbit, and the company plans to send up to 42,000 satellites into space to form a gigantic megaconstellation.

The Chinese researchers were particularly concerned by the potential military capabilities of the constellation, which they claim could be used to track hypersonic missiles; dramatically boost the data transmission speeds of U.S. drones and stealth fighter jets; or even ram into and destroy Chinese satellites.

The first step in China’s grand scheme is to track each and every one of the Starlink satellites.

Ren Yuanzhen is the lead study researcher, and he works at Beijing’s Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications, which is under the People Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Strategic Support Force.

“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,” read the recent paper. If this goes forward, it’s the first idea into practice about tracking such a large constellation — potentially, to destroy them.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s Elon Musk has seen a surge in popularity in China — despite growing criticism after two Starlink satellites swooped precariously close to China’s space station in 2021. Yuanzhen thinks Starlink satellites could offer more than 100 times their data transmission speed to U.S. stealth fighter jets and military drones.

In the event of open war, those could become a critical asset — one that China might not like.

Meanwhile, Musk has revealed the first technical details about the company’s next-generation Starlink ‘Gen2’ satellite design, noting significant enhancements over the current generation’s capabilities.

Speaking in an onsite interview and Starbase tour with YouTuber Tim Dodd (The Everyday Astronaut), Musk – largely unprovoked – revealed that SpaceX has already built at least one functional Starlink Gen2/V2.0 satellite prototype and shipped it to the South Texas Starship factory, where it is currently being stored. More importantly, Musk also provided the first direct specifications for the next-generation spacecraft, stating that each Starlink V2.0 satellite will weigh about 1.25 tons (~2750 lb), measure about seven meters (~23 ft) long, and be almost an order of magnitude more capable than the “Starlink 1” satellites they’ll ultimately supersede.

…V2.0 satellites will be “almost an order of magnitude more capable than Starlink 1.” He refused to call that capability bandwidth or throughput, the traditional method of describing a communication satellite’s total performance, but Starlink V1.0 satellites are believed to have a total bandwidth of 18 gigabits per second (18 Gbps). As of today, it’s unknown if Starlink V1.5 – a significant upgrade – also added more bandwidth, nor if Musk was referring to that latest Starlink V1.x iteration. But even if he was comparing V2.0 with the earliest V1.0 satellites, it’s possible that each Starlink V2.0 satellite could add around 140-160 Gbps to the 30,000-satellite constellation.

Here’ hoping that Musk keeps the Starlink system from being added to the list of technology that has been stolen by China.

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Comments

I think China will have a hard time stealing this technology which is all it takes to make it second rate. By the time they steal it and deploy it, Musk and the Pentagon will be one or more generations ahead of China. That’s the problem with stealing technology. The crooks are always steps behind. The innovators always have the big advantage.

Tesla’s patents are open for everyone to see and use (with an explicit caveat explaining the conditions it is allowed). To date, no one has been able to “steal” and get an advantage over Tesla. Tesla has a gigantic manufacturing plant in China that the CCP could seize but they don’t. All it would accomplish would be to close the operation (big loss to Tesla though). China could never run Tesla. It’s not the battery technology nor the design but Tesla’s robust innovation and quick response management.

I imagine SpaceX will be just as difficult to exploit. Why hasn’t Boeing or Blue Horizon or Virgin Galactic been able to even stay close to keeping pace with SpaceX? That race is poisoned by political interference trying to slow SpaceXs down, just as with Tesla.

I think Musk is a safe bet to win this unless our own government truly is under China’s control. It seems every month, SpaceX launches tens of thousands of new satellites. It would probably take a series of nuclear pulse attacks to even put a dent in that big of a swarm. But I’m not a space engineer so I don’t know.

    daniel_ream in reply to Pasadena Phil. | June 1, 2022 at 2:20 am

    Tesla is a subsidy farm. The cars themselves have an alarming tendency to burst into flames and burn for three days. Like solar farms and windmills, if you took away all the taxpayer money propping it up Tesla would be out of business in a quarter.

    Taking out satellites is child’s play. When the US demonstrated a kill-sat with a laser that could track and destroy Russian satellites, the Russians countered with a hand grenade in a coffee can full of ball bearings.

    The Chinese could wipe out all of Starlink very, very easily, but only via a scorched earth solution that would deny LEO to anyone for decades until the orbital velocity debris was cleaned out.

      How many cars catch fire every year?

      And apparently you aren’t up to date regarding taxpayer subsidies. They are now only going to unionized American companies. Tesla is more profitable than both Ford and GM combined and will soon be manufacturing over a million cars per year. Ford and GM are facing the strong possibility of going under. Their e-cars are awful and the unions are killing them.

        jrcowboy49 in reply to Pasadena Phil. | June 1, 2022 at 7:00 pm

        Unions have been a problem for years and need to be taken out legally. They are a political prop for BLM (domestic terrorist organization) and a political illegal funding source for the radical democrat party.

        Barry in reply to Pasadena Phil. | June 1, 2022 at 9:48 pm

        Not many, no more than the normal number of cars that catch fire each year as a % is my guess.

        Musk is on record saying get rid of the subsidies. Wealthy people purchase Tesla’s and the subsidy will make little to no difference.

      SeiteiSouther in reply to daniel_ream. | June 1, 2022 at 10:34 am

      The Soviets also made a satellite in the 70s, armed with a 20mm cannon, which was successfully fired and destroyed another orbiting target.

There were some problems early on where it seemed Musk had left off data encryption but it was covered by a software update

Doesn’t Xi look stupd in that hat?

healthguyfsu | May 31, 2022 at 9:57 pm

The guy who is running circles around our real foreign enemies across the globe is the one that the left wants to cancel.

Tells you who has their eyes pointed in the direction of reality, and it’s not low info Dem voters and their useful twidiot army.

    MattMusson in reply to healthguyfsu. | June 1, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    Musk can put up Starlink satellites faster than China can shoot them down. SpaceX now owns over 50% of all the satellites in orbit and is heading toward 90%.

Biden probably planned this with Xi during his 17,000 mile journey across Tibet.

    Owego in reply to gonzotx. | June 1, 2022 at 4:22 am

    An interesting off topic not Space-X post. Over time the FBI has become the proverbial “everybody gets a piece” national whore – Perkins-coie, the DNC, NSA, the CIA, Democrat House committees, Pakistan, the FISA court, the NYT, WaPo, the MSM, and now someone from the Supreme Court,

henrybowman | May 31, 2022 at 11:25 pm

Here’s where the world learns that Musk is a better international power than Biden.

Lurch had two chances at “backstabbing diplomacy” against Republicans. Now it’s Musk’s turn to backstab the Washington Communists. And the first Swamp bitch who says “Logan Act” gets a punch in the solar plexus.

Good! If China is busy tracking and trying to eliminate Musk’s thousands of satellites, that will deflect their attention from the most important communications and surveillance satellites. As the sailors on the Moskva showed, a system can only address so many threats at one time.

    And meanwhile, their economy is collapsing. They are desperate on all fronts. Invading Taiwan is becoming more and more like China’s Ukraine.

      Their economy only collapses with external dependencies. Unfortunately, for China, they are dependent for basic human and technical resources if only in volume. Fortunately, they are not shackled with a single/central/monopolistic model supply and unreliables (e.g. solar, wind-derived energy, singular supply chain).

JohnSmith100 | June 1, 2022 at 9:15 am

Starlink a is a distributed system. It is redundant, and China cannot a destroy it without destroying their own space assets..

I would add that hybrid solar electric is distributed in a similar way, and would a make the power grid much robust.

One Falcon 9 rocket can put 53 Starlink satellites into orbit. By the time the Chinese can launch 53 missiles to bring them down (probably more since their kill rate won’t be 100%), that booster will be recycled and can lift another 53. I don’t think the math is on their side.

    Much more is not on their side.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmWO7tmgnUk

    So far, all they have indicated is that they will do something to neutralize Starlink and plan by tracking each individual satellite. But watch this video. There is plenty there to see how difficult it will be for China to destroy these things. And it doesn’t get into the fact that we almost surely have the capability to destroy what they have in space as well.

    Space is not so much about advancing science anymore but about developing military weapons to enable a country to seize global power on earth. Musk has already crushed Putin’s final long-shot for attaining that status which is why Putin is so obsessed with Musk. China has rightly believed that they were winning this race but once Musk appeared, that changed very quickly. We now have superior technology and have gained the momentum to leave China behind.

    It is interesting that China only admits Starlink to be a threat to their Taiwan ambitions. It’s much more than that. This is about attaining global dominance, a war is fought in space. That is why we now have the US Space Force, the only such military branch on earth. China is looking for a silver bullet to stop us before we get too far ahead of them.

China could likely – using a combination of brute force and industrial espionage – hack the satellites and commandeer them for their own use. Sure, they can blow them up but why not co-opt them?

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