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Why No Weapons In Space?

Why No Weapons In Space?


In war, the ‘high ground’ refers to the most
strategic position available on a battlefield, and its occupation and exploitation gives
the force occupying it major military advantages. With the dawn of the space age, it quickly
became clear that the space around earth was the ultimate high ground, and whoever conquered
it first would put all other militaries at a severe disadvantage. So why hasn’t it happened yet? That’s what we’ll find out today, in this
episode of The Infographics Show- why we can’t put weapons on space stations. The first and most obvious answer is a simple
matter of physics. Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for
every action there is an equal, and opposite reaction. If you throw a ball, the ball pushes back
on you- but the friction between your feet and the ground keeps you in place. If you were to try throwing a ball on roller
skates though, the force of the ball pushing back on you would knock you backwards. Because space is a vacuum, there is no friction-
so basic physics tells us that if you tried to shoot a rocket or fire a big enough gun
from a space station, you would send that space station flying out of control. You would have to either counteract the force
of the firing weapon with reaction control thrusters, or make a station massive enough
that the force pushing back on the station is minimal- though of course you would still
need to adjust your orbit after every shot to make sure you didn’t accidentally de-orbit
your entire space station! With an average cost of putting objects or
fuel into orbit resting at $1 million dollars per pound, either option makes for a very,
very expensive weapon. Gun are pretty much out of the question, but
you could potentially design a missile that’s gently released with just a small puff of
accelerant before its rocket motor ignites and carries it away- similar to how the International
Space Station undocks visiting spacecraft. So why not do that? Well, basic physics is again the most obvious
answer- a missile re-entering the earth’s atmosphere would experience the same extreme
heating that a returning space capsule does. In order to protect the chemical warhead from
accidentally blowing up, you would have to spend a lot of money on shielding materials
to keep the warhead cool during re-entry. Ultimately it’s just not worth it- conventional
land, air and sea-fired missiles are much cheaper and less risky. But there is one type of missile that would
be worth the cost, risk, and difficulty of firing from orbit- a nuclear-tipped missile. The goal of a nuclear arsenal is not just
to respond to a nuclear attack- but ideally to be able to destroy an enemy’s own nuclear
arsenal before they have a chance to retaliate. With nuclear weapons, speed is key- yet even
at a whopping 4 miles per second, an ICBM launched from Russia at the United States
would still need about 41 minutes to reach the East Coast. If we put nuclear weapons in orbit though,
that flight time would potentially shrink to mere minutes. The International Space Station (or ISS) orbits
the earth at 5 miles per second, making a complete orbit in just 92 minutes. If a nation where to build a constellation
of just six nuclear-armed orbital stations at the same altitude as the ISS – 250 miles
above earth- there would always be one station loaded with nuclear weapons flying over enemy
territory, and the next station with its nuclear payload would be a maximum of 15 minutes away. Most nuclear nations operate a nuclear launch
and detection system made up of a small fleet of satellites that are constantly scanning
the earth for the telltale massive heat signature of an ICBM being fired. Once detected, other satellites and ground
tracking stations use radar to track the ICBM. But a nuclear-tipped missile fired from orbit
wouldn’t need a big rocket motor – instead each missile could simply be released, use
small RCS thrusters like those used on space capsules when docking to orient each missile
to a different target, and then let gravity pull them down to earth. Without a big, very hot rocket motor, an early
warning and detection system would be useless, and outfitting a missile with radar absorbent
materials like those used on modern stealth aircraft would make radar tracking extremely
difficult. Basically, a nation could launch a crippling
sneak attack against another nation, decimating its nuclear stockpiles and ICBM launch complexes,
and fifteen minutes later have another salvo ready to fire as a new orbital station moves
into position overhead. So why- especially during the heated rivalry
of the Cold War- hasn’t any nation done this? The official reason is the UN’s Outer Space
Treaty. Ratified on October 1st, 1967, by 107 countries-
including China, the United States, and the Soviet Union- the treaty served as the basic
legal framework upon which international space laws could be built upon. With the space race in full swing and humanity’s
imagination picturing a near-future of space colonies and interplanetary travel, it became
clear to the UN that space itself would soon have to be regulated much the same way we
regulated the open seas with international maritime laws. Much more pressing though than a need for
basic laws governing the use of space, was the reality of potential conflict between
two very hostile nuclear powers- the Soviet Union and the United States. MAD- or Mutually Assured Destruction- had
for the moment maintained the peace and kept either nation from even flirting with the
possibility of nuclear war, as each nation knew it could never survive a retaliatory
strike. But with space technologies and capabilities
rapidly evolving in both nations, the possibility of one nation putting nuclear weapons into
space and thus circumventing the safeguards of the MAD doctrine became very real. Thus while the Outer Space Treaty governs
the use of space and prohibits nations from claiming sovereignty over any moon, planet,
or anything in between, the main goal of the treaty was to ban the use of nuclear weapons
in space and thus maintain the security of the MAD doctrine. This is the legal reason why no nation has
ever tried to put weapons into space- but the Outer Space Treaty only governs weapons
of mass destruction, and while as we saw before missiles or guns would do very little good
in space, other weapons known as kinetic impactors would be extremely effective. Basically nothing more than a very large and
very dense projectile, a kinetic impactor uses only its own mass, velocity and kinetic
energy to deliver incredible devastation. The impactor has no chemical explosive, and
relies on fundamental physics – because Force=Mass times Acceleration, by dropping something
very massive (or dense) from orbit and letting the force of gravity accelerate it to thousands
of miles an hour as it falls, you could potentially deliver a destructive blast on par with a
small, tactical nuclear weapon. In fact, the US military has used similar
weapons before in both the Korean and Vietnam war. Known as ‘Lazy Dog’ bombs, the projectiles
were nothing more than 2 inch-long pieces of steel outfitted with fins. When dropped from an aircraft, the projectiles
would reach 500 miles an hour and be capable of penetrating 9 inches of solid concrete
– not bad for having absolutely no explosive! So why then has no nation put kinetic impactor
weapons in space? The reason, it turns out, is a matter of simple
self-preservation. If any nation began such a program, every
other nation on earth would face three choices: A) Allow that nation to complete its orbital
weapon system program and be at their mercy forever.
B) Begin their own orbital weapon system program. C) Immediately go to war with that nation
before they can complete building their orbital weapon system. In order to avoid all-out war, or risk creating
an environment where even if it fields its own orbital weapons, a nation is still critically
vulnerable to hostile orbital weapons it cannot possibly counter, the United States, Russia,
and other space-faring nations have, to date, simply refused to build these weapons. In the best case scenario, putting orbital
weapons in space would simply force other nations to do the same, creating yet another
Mutually Assured Destruction scenario. Given how many close calls we’ve had already
with our earthbound nuclear arsenals, it’s ultimately best we simply stay away from putting
any weapons in space- period. But, what do you think though? Should nations have the right to put anything
they want in space? Let us know your thoughts in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
called What Happens When You Get Knocked Out! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!


Reader Comments

  1. What is your preference when it comes to space? Weapons, colonization, cultivation, defense against 👽, something else? Let me know in the comments…

  2. Obviously they're secretly developing mobile suits for space warfare. Hopefully, US GM's don't explode within 7 seconds after heading out due to laser fire.

  3. Consider the possibility of a nuclear missile being blown up during a failed launch, I would not like to see the consequences.

  4. You forget that as a deterrent , it’s cheaper to have subs that can’t be tracked. MAD means mutually assured destruction, thus space weapons wouldn’t prevent retaliation from icbm subs.

  5. They didn’t ban kinetic weapons so take notes Americans because if the were solid bolts like call of duty ghosts

  6. Yeah no, the missile would still need propulsion to cancel out it’s orbital velocity, gravity wouldn’t simply pull it down

  7. I really thought you'd talk about lasers and the possibility to use satellite who can accelerate a solar powered shuttle, also can be used as a weapon.

  8. these type of weapons could be the reason of human extinction !
    so, No nation should never try to make these weapons.

  9. Auctly we do everyone who has or had access to the stars have or had weapons in space no one is supposed to but since most have or had no one is complaining

  10. Uhm… The Star Wars program? Also known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, started in 1984. Basically, tungsten rods would be dropped from orbit and their kinetic energy would be massive just before hitting the ground, causing a massive explosion. The program ended in 1993, but seems to be starting back up since 2017.

  11. America: Don't try it North Korea! I have the high ground!

    North Korea: you underestim-

    America: *launches orbital nuke

  12. Create weapon in space without it looking like a weapon:
    1. Create space colony
    2. Gas all inhabitants
    3. Drop colony on Sydney, Australia
    4. ???
    5. Profit!

  13. I think there should already be space weapons. Would be really dumb and naive not to have them. If a rogue nation builds and uses it, it's too late for everyone that doesn't. We should always have better weaponry than the opponent, not because they are limited by laws they ultimately might not follow but, because we constantly develop better and they cannot catch up. Just like as with cryptography.

  14. We should not present our space SURROUNDINGS with weapons of any kind. We have asteroids to worry about that someday all nations will have to pull together use or minds and military to thwart an asteroid. We should be asking that question , what are we going to do to save HUMANITY from falling rocks

  15. The space around earth was the ultimate high ground.

    Obi Wan Kenobi wants to know your location

  16. OR simply fire rockets from both sides at once thus negating the "recoil" and keeping the satellite stable?

  17. You could literally just have robotic arms push the bomb off and have thrusters launch when it is far enough away..

  18. Before this video starts, I’d like to say that a weapon called kinetic bombardment is a satellite that drops a rod of tungsten instead of launching

  19. Unless all of the world leaders agree to create stations that use the lazy dog bombs to regulate/eliminate enemies.

  20. I wonder want makes you think there is no weapons in space? You work for NASA or the Government? I doubt, You need to do your homework. There are weapons in space, just not nuclear. There are very high power lasers, among other items.

  21. Or kenetic weapons? No need for explosive because 🔥 it from orbit would be the same as an nuke , but unable to detect em tile to late

  22. nukes not allowed how about when we can make antimatter UN don't get any ideas you have ruined nuclear propulsion

  23. LOL who would believe that there’s no weapon on space? It’s not like government is not used on hiding things to the people 😂

  24. You know, or you could just significantly lower the mass of the projectile being shot. (Hence why blasters shoot plasma/light beams ect) little to no weight, but lots of energy.

  25. Why this video is created? Because of E.D.I.T.H.😂 jkjk its too advanced since this was 11months ago

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