Chinese military researchers stated in an April paper that China needs to develop the capability to detect and destroy SpaceX’s Starlink satellites.
The research, led by Ren Yuanzhen of the Beijing Institute of Tracking and Telecommunications, was published in the Chinese peer-reviewed journal Modern Defence Technology.
Former US diplomat David Cowhig was able to complete a full translation of the paper before it vanished, revealing a series of countermeasures recommended against Starlink.
China must “adopt a combination of soft and hard kill methods to disable some of the satellites and destroy the constellation’s operating system,” according to the paper.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet constellation aims to bring low-cost internet to rural areas. The service already has 2,146 satellites in low Earth orbit, making it the largest of its kind.
In the next five years, SpaceX hopes to have as many as 12,000 satellites in its Starlink constellation, which will eventually grow to 42,000.
While most satellite internet services are provided by single geostationary satellites orbiting the planet at about 35,000 kilometers, Starlink satellites orbit at about 550 kilometers, reducing signal latency.
Although satellite internet is typically slower than traditional broadband, it has the advantage of being accessible even in remote areas where cable or cellular towers are unavailable.
Why is China particularly worried about it?
To answer this question, consider an opinion piece published this month in China Military Online, the Chinese military’s official news portal, titled ‘Starlink’s Expansion, Military Ambitions Alert World.’
Starlink’s “unchecked expansion” and SpaceX’s “ambition to use it for military purposes,” according to the author, Li Xiaoli, should raise alarm bells around the world.
Use in Ukraine
Xiaoli mentioned the use of Starlink in Ukraine, where the US government assisted in the delivery of over 10,000 Starlink terminals.
In addition to the high cost of Starlink and the questionable demand for it, SpaceX’s future is threatened by mounting political and diplomatic risk.
Separately, it was reported that Ukraine’s defense ministry is employing facial recognition technology from Clearview AI, based in the United States, which could help authorities vet people at checkpoints, unmask Russian assailants, combat misinformation, and identify the dead.
However, it’s unclear whether this technology was used in conjunction with Starlink.
‘A Strong Military Background’
Starlink has a “strong military background,” according to Xiaoli, because the US Air Force has been testing it since 2018 to provide low latency, high bandwidth internet to its planes.
In 2020, SpaceX was awarded a $150 million contract to develop military-use satellites, as well as a contract with the US Army to use Starlink’s broadband to transmit data across military networks.
According to Yuanzhen’s paper, Starlink’s intended applications in its 2017 patent filing included satellite communication and transmission, satellite imaging, remote sensing, and other services, “implying great potential for combat information support and other services.”
A global net
Another reason China opposes Starlink is that it intends to occupy the majority of low-Earth orbit.
The Chinese researchers’ paper outlined a number of requirements that China would have to meet in order to counter Starlink:
- Wide-area surveillance capability of the entire Starlink constellation
- Sensing key targets precisely
- Capability to deal with situational data
- Capability to recover from unusual space events
- A group target system with a low orbit
It also made some more general recommendations:
- Increase research into the needs of space combat systems.
- Increase your command over satellite frequency and orbit resources.
- Develop new countermeasures on a regular basis.