An expert explains the technology


WASHINGTON — Russia is building a new ground-based laser facility to interfere with satellites orbiting overhead, according to a recent report by The Space Review. The basic idea would be to dazzle the optical sensors of other countries’ spy satellites. Fill them with laser light.

Laser technology has developed to the point where this type of anti-satellite defense is plausible, although there is little evidence that any country has successfully tested such a laser.

If the Russian government is able to manufacture the laser, it will be able to Protect a large part of the country out of sight of satellites with optical sensors. The technology is also setting the stage for the more ominous possibility of laser weapons that could permanently disable satellites.

how do lasers work

A laser is a device for producing a narrow beam of directed energy. The first laser was developed in 1960, and many types have been created since then that use different physical mechanisms to generate photons or particles of light.

Gas lasers pump large amounts of energy into specific molecules, such as carbon dioxide. Chemical lasers work with specific chemical reactions that release energy. Semiconductor lasers use custom crystalline materials to convert electrical energy into photons. In all lasers, photons then propagate by passing through a special type of material called an amplifying medium and then focused into a coherent beam. Beam director.

laser effect

Depending on the intensity and wavelength of the photon, the directed beam of energy created by a laser can produce a variety of effects on its target. For example, if the photons are in the visible part of the spectrum, a laser can send light to your target,

For a high enough flux of high-energy photons, a laser can heat, vaporize, melt, and even burn its target material. The ability to produce these effects is determined by the power level of the laser, the distance between the laser and its target, and the ability to focus the beam on the target.

laser application

The various effects produced by lasers find many applications in daily life, including laser pointers, printers, DVD player, retinal surgery and other medical surgery procedures, and industrial manufacturing processes such as welding and laser cutting. Researchers are developing lasers as an alternative to radio wave technology to power communications between spacecraft and Earth.

Lasers also find wide application in military operations. One of the most famous is the airborne laser (ABL), which the US military wanted to use to shoot down ballistic missiles. The ABL consisted of a very large, high-powered laser mounted on a Boeing 747. The program was ultimately doomed by challenges associated with thermal management and maintenance of its chemical laser.

The US military used a powerful laser to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles on a large jet plane. US Missile Defense Agency.

A more successful military application is the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system, used to protect aircraft against heat-saving anti-aircraft missiles. The LAIRCM shines light from a solid-state laser onto the missile’s sensor as the aircraft approaches, causing the weapon to glare and lose track of your goals,

The evolving performance of semiconductor lasers has led to a proliferation of new military applications. The US military installs lasers on army trucks and navy ships to defend against small targets such as drones, mortar shells and other threats. The Air Force is studying the use of lasers on aircraft for defensive and offensive purposes.

russian laser

The alleged new Russian laser facility is called Kalina, Its purpose is to dazzle, and therefore temporarily blind, the optical sensors of satellites collecting information above their heads. Like the American LAIRCM, glare consists of saturating the sensor with enough light to prevent it from working. Achieving this goal requires that a sufficient amount of light is delivered to the sensors of the satellite. This is not an easy task, considering the great distance to be traveled and the fact that the laser beam must first pass through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Accurately aiming lasers at great distances in space is nothing new. For example, in 1971 NASA’s Apollo 15 mission placed meter-sized reflectors on the Moon that are directed by lasers at Earth to provide positional information. Delivering enough photons over large distances reduces the power level of the laser and its optical system.

Kalina would work in pulsed mode in the infrared and would produce about one thousand joules per square centimeter. In comparison, the pulsed laser used for retinal surgery is only 1/10,000th as powerful. Kalina distributes a large part of the photons generated over the large distances where the satellites orbit above. It’s able to do this because lasers create highly aggregated beams, which means the photons travel in parallel so the beam doesn’t spread out. Kalina focuses her beam using a telescope whose diameter is several meters.

Spy satellites using optical sensors operate in low Earth orbit at an altitude of a few hundred kilometers. These satellites usually take a few minutes to pass through a specific point on the Earth’s surface. This requires Kalina to be able to work continuously during this time while maintaining constant tracking on the optical sensor. These functions are provided by the telescopic system.

Based on the purported description of the telescope, Kalina could target an airborne satellite hundreds of miles in its path. that would make it possible protect a very large area, on the order of 40,000 square miles (about 100,000 square kilometers), from intelligence gathering by optical sensors on satellites. Forty thousand square miles is about the size of the state of Kentucky.

Russia claims that in 2019 it introduced a less capable truck-mounted laser glare system called PresvetHowever, there is no confirmation that it has been used successfully.

Laser power levels are likely to continue to increase, allowing the momentum to go beyond the temporary glow effect to permanently damage sensor imaging hardware. While the development of laser technology is moving in this direction, there are important policy considerations associated with using lasers in this way. The permanent destruction of space sensors by a nation could be considered an act of aggression, resulting in a Rapid increase in voltage.

laser in space

The potential deployment of laser weapons in space is of greater concern. Such systems would be very effective because the distances to the target would be greatly reduced and there would be no atmosphere to weaken the beam. The power level required for space lasers to cause significant damage to spacecraft would be significantly reduced compared to ground-based systems.

Additionally, space lasers can be used to target any satellite by aiming the lasers at propellant tanks and power systems, which if damaged would render the spacecraft completely inoperable.

As technological advancements continue, the potential for the use of laser weapons in space is growing. So the question is, what are the consequences?

Original article on The Conversation

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