19 February 2011

History of Space Warfare

"Control of space means control of the world."
— Vice President Lyndon Johnson, 1961

I remember the first time I watch the original 1968 Planet of the Apes, and there in the survival kit is a hammer-less .32 Colt (with one magazine?), and wondering if real Astronauts carried guns into space? Did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have Colt .45's in the LEM?  During research of my award-winning paper on the global impact of the AK-47, I came across an quote that stated a cut-down AK (perhaps an AKS-74U) had been the first gun in space. I seems odd to a follower of NASA history that the USSR would give orbiting Cosmonauts (who were serving officers in the USSR armed forces) a gun?


The first gun in space, it seems, was not an AKS-74U, but a odd-tri-barrel survival gun, specially developed the USSR if their Cosmonauts came down in "hostile territory". The TP-82 is a break-action tri-barrel pistol (with a attachable butt-stock) that fired flares, 5.45x39mm rounds, and 12.5x70mm shotgun shells.
The TP-82 was developed after a March 1965 landing of a Soyuz capsule was off course (Russia capsules parachute over land) and rumors of wolves and bears caused the Soviet Space Program to develop a compact weapon that could be used in all manner of situations. NASA regarded the Russian space gun as a taboo subject, especially when Russians and Americans started serving onboard the International Space Station. This unusually gun is packed in a metal canister with the other survival gear under the seats of the Soyuz capsule. The fate of the TP-82 was sealed with the strangle 12.5x70mm shotgun ammunition stockpile became unstable, and so the weapon was retired in 2008, replaced by the new standard issue Russian Federation MP-443 9x19mm pistol. 
Rumors say that NASA is not thrilled...


The Third Reich's super-weapons or Wunderwaffe, was working on a space-based "sun-gun" mounted a orbiting space station that would unitize a 100-meter wide concave mirror to direct sunlight into a focus attack on the surface of the Earth. 

Another space-based artillery system was proposed by Jerry Pourlle, at the time working for Boeing, using "orbiting tungsten telephone pole poles" in the 1950's for kinetic bombardment of the surface. Later, this idea was explored under the USAF's Project Thor. This dumb projectiles are also called "Rods from God" and featured in the military sci-fi novels of Footfall and Orphanage.

 Today, space-based artillery systems are being developed for asteroid defense. Some of the ground work on asteroid defense with space-based artillery is the use of  kinetic penetration for space exploration. These were used on the Moon with the NASA LCROSS in 2009 and the NASA space probe Deep Impact that releasing an "impactor" into the comet Tempel 1 in 2005 .The ESA as been working on the Don Quijote space probe specifiably designed for asteroid defense, and will be tested in 2013 or 2015 on asteroid 99942 Apophis.


 The Soviet Union Space Program reeled after their defeat to the Americans to get to the Moon first, threw themselves into beating the Americans to having a space station in GSO. The Almaz/Salyut station were small rocket-launched "military" space stations that were fitted with Soyuz capsule docking collars. The idea was to have manned military space platforms that could preform anti-satellite operations and recon from space, including developing film in the tiny stations
The oddest portion of these military Soviet GSO stations, is that they were armed with a Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23x115mm cannon. The first was mounted on the Salyut-3 station in 1973. The 23mm cannon was original used on a wide range of Soviet and Warsaw Pact aircraft, and it served as a "self-defense cannon" on the Salyut-3.

The cannon was limited in use, due to the entire station would have to be moved for the cannon to change firing positions. According to several sources, the cannon was fired by ground control at a nearby satellite with success, some sources say that the cannon was fired until it ran out of ammunition. The gun was never fired when Salyut-3 was manned, there was a concern at the recoil that was produced by the NR-23 and could led to damage in the station hull integrity.


During the 1980's USSR was developing a carbon-dioxide/Red Ruby laser for anti-satellite and anti-ballistic missile defenses at TERRA-3 testing range in Sary-Shagan, Kazakhstan. This was the Russian version of the USA's own SDI program.
 According to other articles found online, the Soviets had been tracking US satellites and disturb them with low-powered lasers. But the shuttle worried the USSR greatly, as a possible  military base-of-operations for space-based strikes on Mother Russia.

Minister of Defense Ustinov ordered that the SDI American policy must be 'challenged'.  This challenge was a "warning shot" from the 5N 24 Argun phased-array at the Terra-3 complex. Ustinov felt justified in this extreme action because of the tension between the USSR and the USA over SDI, also Dmitri Ustinov believed that the Challenger was being used a spy platform.
Terra-3 at Sary-Shagan in the 1980's.

This 'warning shot' came on October 10th 1984, when the USSR targeted the US Space Shuttle Challenger during STS-41G with a low-powered laser that "caused malfunction to onboard systems and temporary blindness to the crew".
What happened to the USSR ground-based Laser defense systems? When the USSR fell apart, and the Cold War ended, the expense of a anti-missile DEW system proved too much.Terra-3 was left to rot. In addition, Terra-3 proved that the laser was too-under powered to destroy an incoming ICBM.


One of the new tools of war that as changed what will be fought over is satellites, and these would be a important target during any major armed conflict. If there is to be any war in space within much of our lifetimes, it will over satellites, and this as driven anti-satellite technology. Here the examples of anti-satellite tests:
  • The Chinese Anti-Satellite weapons test  of 2007, used a head-on collision of the Chinese FY-1C Weather Satellite and a kinetic kill vehicle retrofitted from a DF-21 ballistic missile (01/11/2007).
  • P78-1, an American F-15 launched an ASM-135A ASAT missile (pic left) to destroy a failing USA spy satellite successfully (09/13/1985)
  • The USS Lake Erie shot down the military spy satellite USA-193 with a SM-3 missile. 
  • To counter the threat proposed by the American SDI program, the Soviets designed the Polyus satellite to destroy SDI platforms with a megawatt CO2 Laser. The first Polyus satellite launched in 1985 failed to make orbit, and with the lack of a SDI satellites in orbit, and Mikhail Gorbachev's new peace effort the Polyus project was canceled.  

The largest impact into the furthering of space warfare, it is the Reagan SDI program or "Star Wars" of the 1980's, that later was scaled down into the Missile Defense Shield of today. SDI was attempt to place orbital and surface based anti-ICBM defensive weapons against the massive USSR advantage in nuclear weapons. President Reagen sold SDI to the American people as more of deterrent and shield than a weapon system.
The USSR mobilized its scientific minds to counter the threat and viewed this as a way to break NATO. Some believe that SDI was an attempt to break the financial spine of the Soviet Union and get them to the table, however, some of the technology of SDI was developed.
In 1985, the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-51-G) launched the High Precision Tracking Experiment (HPTE), and tested on June 21, via a Hawaii-based low-power laser  tracked and bounced the laser off of the HPTE. This was the first step in ground-based lasers that could tack, aim, and fire a laser beam to destroy or disable incoming ICBMs. Further tests, in 1990, via the Relay Mirror Experiment (RME) allowed for a 60cm mirror on a satellite in GSO was tracked by a ground-based system and held for a unspecified amount of time.
In 1989, the BEAR (Beam Experiment Aboard Rocket) was launched to test the application of a Neutral Particle Beam in the vacuum of space, and successful landed, allowing the military to assume that Particle DEW systems have application in space.  

The USAF spend about seven years with Boeing developing an aircraft mounted chemical laser for use to intercept and disable tactical ballistic missiles while they were in flight. The laser was mounted in the nose of a Boeing 747-00F testbed and was called the Boeing YAL-1.
The program was ended in 2011, when the USAF did not request anymore funding. The thinking was that the airborne laser was simply not going to work, The reason that were given by the DOD, was the  reaction time needed to track and disable a incoming missile, and the laser could only engage one target at a time, the 6500lbs of weight that the DEW system added, and the massive fuel needed to power the beam, forcing the 747 to land after each missile.  Also, it's use as an anti-satellite platform was also limited, especially considering that missiles were already proven to work.  
The real issue was the chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) was not a blaster, there simple not enough fuel that could be carried to create a beam with a enough juice to outright destroy the missiles, instead, the beam was used to weaken the skin of the missile to create failure in the hull integrity, however it needed 3-to-5 seconds of lock to function.   


During the height of the Third Reich, the Luftwaffe began a project for the "Amerika Bomber", that was intended to launch the first stage in the invasion of America...the first step was for a long-range strategic bomber that could strike targets in America. One of way of performing this task was to skip through the atmosphere, this led to the so-called Silbervogel or "Silver Bird". The invasion of Russia stopped funding in 1941, but some work continued...and some believe that the Nazi's work on the Sliver-Bird allowed for NASA to develop the Space Shuttle.

Even now, the project to develop a space-borne vehicle is being undertaken by the US Marines, the so-called "Hot Eagle"....From the Popular Mechanics Website:  "It could transport a squad of Marine riflemen to anyplace on earth within 2 hours, and then extract them after their mission is complete. Though the goal is appealing—imagine delivering well-armed Marines at hypersonic speed to a suspected Osama bin Laden hideout or besieged embassy—the concept seemed outlandish to many when it was first proposed."

The working examples of the space planes are: The SR-71, the American and Soviet Space Shuttles, The Soviet Uragan/BOR-04/MiG-105 (pics below), the Boeing X-37, the American 1950's era X-15, and the private owned SpaceShip One.

The old USSR in the 1980's was developing their own shuttle system, the Buran and at the same time, the CIA had photographic evidence of a small space plane being recovering from the Indian Ocean in 1987. It was the Uragan/BOR-4/MiG-105 "Space Interceptor". American intelligence felt the Uragan was a response to the Space Shuttle, and could be armed with missles to shot down SDI satellites or even do harm to the proposed Freedom Space Station (now the ISS). Today, the new Russian space program as said that the Soviet space plane of the1980's were actually a testbed for the the Russian Buran Space Shuttle.  

In 1999, the USAF began the developed of the robotic reusable space planes that could field military satellites, repair damaged ones via robotic arms, and other missions to further the goals of US Space Command. In 2010, the first two X-37's were launched from a Atlas V rocket and successfully landed. It is unknown if the X-37 will mount any offensive weaponry, but it does possess the needed Delta-Vee to change orbits. The secret program was spotted by amateur skywatches and the USAF later came clean about the X-37 program...causing China to warn of the "militarization of space." Then there is the story of a rumored American space plane...
Through the late 1980's all the way today, there have been rumors, odd videos, "doughnut" contrails, sonic booms, and sightings of triangle plane around the world. These sightings were not linked to Black Triangle UFOs seen during the infamous Phoenix Lights incident of 1997.  Rumors pointed to a next-gen stealth spy MACH-5+ plane that may use scramjet, or pulsejet, or even advanced prototype ramjet systems to skip through sub-orbit and atmosphere. However, the Aurora sightings have dropped sharply since the 1990's.
The likelihood of the USAF developing a new spy plane in the era of the spy satellite is doubtful. The likely cause for the existence of something like the secretive Aurora plane could be as a testbed for a space plane project (like the X-37) or even the next-gen stealth fighters, like the F-22.  

Are these the Aurora plane, captured in low-orbit by the Space Shuttle mission STS-61-C in 1986?


Website with information on combat spacecraft:

This website devoted to the USSR Space Shuttle Buran and other projects

Link to more on the Terra-3/Space Shuttle incident of 1985.

A Good general space history site:



  1. Almost all of the laser weapons the military is experimenting with today are "heat rays", lasers that shine on their target at relatively low power for a few seconds or more to cause damage by heating, cooking, melting, warping, burning, etc. The theory is that by cooking the outer skin of a missile, a "heat ray" could cause its casing to fail. Then the missile will fall apart. In practice, it requires several seconds to work, and maintaing a target lock is difficult. That is why the airborne laser didn't work out.

    A truly high-power laser would have the power to blast through the missile, vaporizing it. We do not yet have the compact power sources and high-efficiency lasers required to do this. When we do, lasers will become far more fearsome weapons.

    There is no limit to the amount of power a laser beam can carry. On the extreme end, let's imagine a weapon called the Sumbeam. Let's say I had a Dyson swarm around a star gathering the energy it emits. Now let us say that my Dyson swarm was a phased array laser. (See where I'm taking this yet?) I could take the entire energy output of my star and focus it in one direction as a laser beam, carrying enough power to fry a star-system. TREMBLE IN FEAR BEFORE MY ALL POWERFUL LASER BEAM!!! A Type-2 civilization could wield this awesome power.

    Laser pistols would need to pack enough energy into a single shot to kill a human, about a few kilo-joules. A laser-pistol would be the mark of a highly advanced civilization. This civilization would have put compact, high-density power sources, powerful and compact lasers, and sophisticated electronics in a compact package you can wear on your hip- something far beyond our technology today!!

    Spaceplanes are awesome. Perhaps Hot Eagle is the precursor to military dropships for troop insertion from orbiting troop carriers. Spaceplanes will be as common as airplanes today by 2050. You will fly to Tokyo on a craft capable of going into orbit.

    I wonder what firearms future astronauts will carry in case they are stranded on a distant planet (or boarded by hostile aliens!!)? Futuristic slug-throwers? Advanced combat rifles? Laser-pistols or particle beam weapons? It would be fool-hardy indeed to go boldly into an un-explored environment full of unknown hazards unarmed....

    Thanks, William, for the interesting article on the history of space warfare.

    Christopher Phoenix

    Christopher Phoenix

  2. Im pretty sure the X-37 is a lte version Aurora.