Space has become the epicenter of a competition different from the one envisioned by Ronald Reagan .
Instead of missiles launched from orbit to attack rivals, thousands of satellites are now at the center of a sometimes tense dynamic between the United States, Russia and China .
A new battle of satellites takes place in the stratosphere, 40 years after the president of the United States , Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), surprised the world with his “Star Wars” project with which he sought to bring the competition nuclear into space.
In large measure because it was so far beyond the technology of the time, Reagan’s statement of March 23, 1983 about the space race undertaken by the United States to overcome the Soviet Union, in the framework of the Cold War, had little consequence.
But recently, space has become the epicenter of a competition different from the one Reagan envisioned. Instead of missiles launched from orbit to attack rivals, thousands of satellites are now at the center of a sometimes tense dynamic between the United States , Russia and China.
And the United States does not seem to have a clear advantage: China, in particular, exhibits an ability to compete and even outperform its rival.
The official name of Ronald Reagan ‘s program was the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
But it immediately became known as “Star Wars” (Star Wars), after the science fiction film in which ships battle in space with futuristic weaponry.
That is where the United States should dominate, according to Reagan.
“I have made a decision that offers a new hope for our children in the 21st century,” he said, evoking the 1977 film “Star Wars: A New Hope.”
World security would no longer be based on the principle that neither the United States nor the Soviets could survive a nuclear exchange: the so-called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine, he said.
Instead, the United States would produce space weapons to instantly pulverize any Soviet nuclear missile launched against its territory.
Despite the fact that billions of dollars were invested in SDI to develop space laser or particle beam weapons, the idea could not be carried out, due to the lack of technology that would allow it.
A decade later, “Star Wars” disappeared to make way for a more conventional nuclear deterrent program: ground-based missile defense.
Even today, as Russia threatens Ukraine with nuclear weapons and China accelerates the production of missiles and atomic warheads, the MAD doctrine remains the main reason why nuclear war has not broken out.
Today orbiting satellites are crucial tools of warfare and, as the electronic backbone of ground conflicts, they are also prime targets.
In 1983, satellites were big and very expensive: there were only about 360 in orbit.
Currently, 9,312 fly over us, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
Around 2,700 were put into orbit last year, according to Euroconsult.
Many are small, cheap, and serve civil communications, research, and business.
But hundreds, if not thousands, have military and intelligence uses.
Some are launched as networks of mini- satellites to warn of the launch of ballistic missiles.
But they are not only used for surveillance missions.
Washington, Moscow and Beijing have developed “space stalkers”: satellites that can physically interfere with each other.
With robotic arms and claws, “they can stalk the opposing satellite and move it, or bend an antenna” to render it useless, says Brian Chow, an independent space policy analyst.
Experts say the satellites under development will have weapons capable of shooting at rivals or blowing them up with explosive charges.
In addition, both China and the United States have top-secret programs for small, reusable, robotic, and winged aerospace craft that can be equipped to damage rival satellites .
Meanwhile, the superpowers have the ability – which they regularly employ – to jam satellite signals, something they do both from the ground and from space.
The three countries have also demonstrated that they can launch missiles capable of destroying orbiting satellites from the ground.
The Pentagon claims that China has ground-based laser stations that can interfere with, if not disable, satellites . Presumably the United States and Russia have or are developing similar capabilities.
The 1967 Outer Space Nuclear Treaty, signed by most countries, prohibited putting nuclear weapons into orbit.
But there are few limitations to space competition.
In April, US Vice President Kamala Harris said her country would forgo testing ground-launched ground-based anti-satellite missiles, hoping Russia and China would do the same, due to the amount of space debris that practice would cause. leaves in orbit around the Earth.
“Without clear rules, we face unnecessary risks in space,” he said