How susceptible are satellites to interference? How easily can they be disabled or destroyed? What measures can be
taken to reduce their vulnerability? What are the likely costs and available
alternatives to various space weapons proposals?
The answers to these questions depend on physical laws
and technical details that are not widely understood outside of a segment of
the science and engineering community. At the request of the Academy’s “Rules
of Space” project, David Wright, Laura Grego, and Lisbeth Gronlund (Union of
Concerned Scientists) prepared a reference manual that makes accessible the
necessary facts upon which an informed evaluation of space policy choices can
The paper describes the mechanics of satellite orbits
and explains why certain operations are suited to particular orbits. It
discusses the requirements for launching satellites into space and maneuvering
them once in space. It considers the consequences of the space environment for
basing certain military missions there. Finally, it describes the elements of a
satellite system and assesses the vulnerability of these components to various
types of interference or destruction. It also includes an analysis of technical
measures for reducing satellite vulnerability.
The paper provides a foundation for the formulation of
sound, science-based policy. It also includes detailed appendices.