The New Nuke: Understanding the Impact of Anti-Satellite Weapons Systems

Angelotti, Jamie, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Goyne, Christopher, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Rogers, Hannah, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) have gone from science fiction to reality. Satellites once could be operated without worry of being intentionally shot down, but that has changed with ASATs. The proliferation of ASATs has had a profound impact on the space environment by contributing to additional space debris and greatly increasing the future likelihood of more debris. The Social Construction of Technology framework, allows for a better understanding of ASAT because this new technology’s development is going to be shaped by multiple social groups. The social groups currently engaged in active dialogue on ASATs are primarily militaries, policymakers, satellite operators, arms control advocates, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), policy think tanks, and academia. However, the general public and other non-state actors—notabley terrorist and separatist paramilitary organizations—are also deeply affected by ASAT development and deployment, though they are less engaged in the conversation. None of these groups are homogeneous, so each one brings an internal conflict of opinions to the larger social dialogue on the issue, yet a synthesis of these views through SCOT yields an understanding of ASATs previously inaccessible. The military is the primary group pushing the development of ASAT from both those supporting deterrence theory and strategic stability. There is also a coalition of groups who share a common interest in freezing ASAT development and are likely to play a major role in influencing how ASATs evolve over time. Parallel to this, the intelligence community hasn’t taken a clear public stance on ASATs and is unlikely to do so. Yet, if they do take a stance it will have a profound impact on ASAT development and these cross-group interactions. Considering this SCOT analysis, it is likely that ASAT technology will move in the direction of reversible capabilities that doesn't result in large amounts of space debris being created.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Anti-satellite weapons, CubeSat, Hypersonic Glider, Social Construction of Technology
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