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GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT THE THREAT OF HIGH ALTITUDE NUCLEAR DETONATIONS

War on the rocks, ROBERT “TONY” VINCENT, 23 Sept 22,

Aurora Borealis is the scientific term given to the natural light phenomenon of the Northern Lights. On July 9, 1962, the light phenomenon that Hawaiians watched was anything but natural. On that day, the Atomic Energy Commission, in collaboration with the Defense Atomic Support Agency, detonated a thermonuclear device in low Earth orbit. The test was codenamed Starfish Prime and it revealed an unfortunate lesson: Even one high altitude nuclear detonation is particularly effective at destroying satellites. Not only were satellites in the line of sight destroyed, but even satellites on the other side of Earth were damaged and rendered inoperable. Starfish Prime damaged or destroyed roughly one third of all satellites in low Earth orbit at the time. 

The ongoing commercialization of space with cost effective bulk electronics presents a tantalizing target for nations with a space disadvantage to target long-before a conflict could escalate to nuclear exchange. Therefore, the Department of Defense should get serious about planning for and countering the threat of high altitude nuclear detonations, starting with its various science and technology funding organizations. 

……………………….. The threat of nuclear explosions in space is marginalized because the potency of their effects is not widely known and the likelihood of nuclear attack in space is assumed to be negligible. Despite this skepticism, war planners should recognize that the growing number of satellites in space may change the incentive structures to disable them in some sort of nuclear attack. The dynamics of escalation are also not straightforward. 

……………………… The Starfish Prime test surprised everyone with how effective an exo-atmospheric nuclear explosion was at destroying satellites. Nobel Prize winner Glenn Seaborg, co-discoverer of plutonium and Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1961 to 1971, wrote that, “To our great surprise and dismay, it developed that Starfish added significantly to the electrons in the Van Allen belts. This result contravened all our predictions.” Even more surprising was that the world’s first commercial communications satellite, Telstar, was launched the day after the Starfish Prime test and still suffered significant operational damage from residual radiation. Telstar lasted only eight months until it stopped responding in February, 1963 due to damaged electronics. …………………………………………………………..

The possibility of high altitude nuclear weapons targeting space assets is not a novel threat, but one that is historically dismissed. The nature of orbiting around Earth means that space assets are periodically exposed in highly predictable patterns. In fact, delivering a nuclear weapon into low earth orbit is an easier engineering challenge for a nation like North Korea than targeting the continental United States because the missile’s warhead has to survive the drag and heat of atmospheric reentry. Space assets are not just tempting targets but become more provocative with each supported military operation……  https://warontherocks.com/2022/09/getting-serious-about-the-threat-of-high-altitude-nuclear-detonations/

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September 22, 2022 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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