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Academy Study Assesses Technical Feasibility of Space Weapons

5/12/2005

Press Release

CAMBRIDGE, MA, May 12, 2005 – While congressional leaders and policymakers explore the possible expansion of space-based military operations, a technical understanding of what is possible and at what cost remains unclear to many in the debate. “A few very basic laws of physics have important implications for the way satellites, space-based weapons, and anti-satellite weapons can be designed and operated,” write the authors of a new study from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In The Physics of Space Security, a review of the physics governing a wide variety of space operations, authors David Wright, Laura Grego and Lisbeth Gronlund explain the advantages and disadvantages of performing certain military missions in space.

The authors describe the capabilities of anti-satellite weapons and weapons in space and how these capabilities compare, in both effectiveness and cost, to alternative defense systems. They also consider the options open to nations that wish to defend against these capabilities, and explain the various methods for interfering with satellite systems and space-based weapons. The paper offers a clear exposition of physical laws and concepts as they apply to the deployment of weapons in space. It also includes detailed technical appendices.

As Wright, Grego, and Gronlund note, “Unless the wider debate about these issues is grounded in an accurate understanding of the facts underlying space operations, the discussion and policy prescriptions will be irrelevant or, worse, counterproductive.” The study provides a foundation for the formulation of sound, science-based policy.

The Physics of Space Security is one of several Occasional Papers commissioned as part of the Reconsidering the Rules of Space project, which is directed by the Academy’s Committee on International Security Studies. The project seeks to convene parties with diverse interests to propose a reasonable international framework for the future of space use—commercial, scientific, and military. Forthcoming Occasional Papers will address the effects of U.S. space policy on civilian and scientific interests in space and offer international perspectives on U.S. military space plans. The project is supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. More information about the project and about the Committee on International Security Studies is available online, at https://www.amacad.org/content/Research/researchproject.aspx?d=40.

"Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on: science and global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world.

 

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