back to article Satellites with lasers and machine guns coming! China's new plans? Trump's Space Force? Nope, the French

France is threatening to stick submachine guns on its next generation of satellites as part of an "active space defense" strategy that would enable it to shoot down other space hardware. That demented idea is part of a broader review of the country's approach to space that has absolutely nothing to do with President Donald …

  1. Haku

    Real Genius (1985)

    Operation Crossbow is all I could think of when I read they wanted to put laser weapons in space.

    Altogether now: ♫ Everybody wants to rule the world... ♫ (extended version)

    1. Mongrel

      Re: Real Genius (1985)

      "Operation Crossbow is all I could think of when I read they wanted to put laser weapons in space."

      I went to Iron Sky

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Real Genius (1985)

      For the machine guns in space I guess someone's been watching Battlestar Galactica or The Expanse.

      If it's in The Expanse it's probably doable in real life some day, the question is if we would want to... And the answer is no, because if it were used Earth would be locked in a cage of shrapnel.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Real Genius (1985)

        A cage of shrapnel will help us fend off any alien invasion. Go Space Wars!

        1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

          Re: Real Genius (1985)

          @AC - "A cage of shrapnel will help us fend off any alien invasion. Go Space Wars!"

          But then they just nuke us from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Real Genius (1985)

      I thought of the Star Wars Peace Platform from the original Robocop, but there are no video clips of that fake news story seen in the movie. :(

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Real Genius (1985)

        There you go.

        Looks like real news from where I'm sitting 32 years later.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Real Genius (1985)

          "Looks like real news from where I'm sitting 32 years later."

          The scariest thing about that clip is that it could have been broadcast just yesterday as part of a real news programme and no one would have thought it was a 30 year old clip. The newsreaders still fit the look and presenting style, ie cookie cutter presenters.

    4. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: Real Genius (1985)

      You can even get a patch for that.

    5. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Real Genius (1985)

      All you need are lasers mounted on Low Orbit Great White SpaceSharks. Kindly substitute Space Seabass (Angry) for the poverty-stricken British.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Real Genius (1985)

        Mutant space goats for Britain.

        Make Britain bleat again!

    6. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Real Genius (1985)

      none of these replies are Real Genius related!

      what a film!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If direct war breaks out involving two or more spacefaring countries against each other, you better not plan to depend on satellites for your TV or other telecommunications needs, because orbit is quickly going to be full of far too much shrapnel to track once the 'first strike' happens.

    Maybe that's Fermi's "Great Filter", civilizations do something stupid and are unable to reliably launch anything off their planet ever again so they see no point in trying to communicate with anyone else.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well

      Diminishing returns. May also apply to the required knowledge and industrial focus for building a interstellar transportation.

      That, and we could be the first. We certainly are early at messing it all up, so perhaps it will be everyone else to learn from us?

    2. not.known@this.address Silver badge

      Re: Well

      Surely all you need to do is launch a few large magnets and let attraction take its course... Over time, all the magnetic junk will be caught by the magnets and then the coalescing balls of junk will sweep up everything in their paths - as they get bigger, they sweep up more junk. Problem solved! :-)

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Well

        If only Willie Coyote physics worked in the real world

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: Oh Well*

          If only Willie Coyote physics worked in the real world .... Yet Another Anonymous coward

          How very odd 0ne would not Believe IT to be easily so. ....... and with all of these new-fangled entangling tools and exciting programs streaming ....... well, Future Instruction Sets which be Virtually Free Online for Protocol Command and Control Advancement Testing/Stealthy Firing ......for Simply Complex Range Finding Purpose.

          One wouldn't want to be bedevilled and bewildered, bedazzled and bewitched in the draughty halls of delusion whenever the real chambers of delight are so heavenly a confection/desire/satisfaction/temptation

          :-) And that all simply says is the above be demonstrably true .... and readily available for Future AI Testing with the Best of ALTuring Type Applications which Never Forget the Insatiable Pleasures Presented for Delivery. .... and they be for All to Enjoy and Employ ...... with Immaculate Desire to Satisfy Exhaustively and to Heavenly XSS. :-)

          * ... Oh Well

        2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Well

          If only Willie Coyote physics worked in the real world

          Get the debris to look down, at which point it would plummet earthwards.

        3. Ugotta B. Kiddingme
      2. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

        Re: Well

        Don't call me Shirley

    3. Persona Silver badge

      Re: Well

      A clean way to take out a satellite would be to deploy a spinning disk of black mylar coated with a gecko type adhesive. By positioning it in an orbit that will intersect the satellite with a smallish relative velocity of about 100mph its tiny mass would mean the impact would cause no debris but it would envelope and disable the satellite,

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well

        100 mph would definitely cause a lot of debris. You don't think if you flung a piece of mylar at a solar panel it wouldn't break? Satellites are extremely flimsy, because every pound is precious. It would be very easy to break off pieces with even a 10 mph relative speed, let alone 100.

        1. Persona Silver badge

          Re: Well

          A 20m radius disk of 5 micron mylar weighs less than 10 grams

          Even at 100mph the impact energy is only 6 joules and spread over all the satellite.

          To put that energy in context, take a nice rubber band that will stretch fully to about 200mm. That's about 2J of stored energy. Alternatively if you twist it about 100 times you will have over 7J stored.

      2. Schultz

        ...deploy a spinning disk of black mylar...

        So how will you depose of the resulting mylar-wrapped space-debris? And don't tell me that the garbage truck can pick up, because I don't want that junk in a spacefill near my planet!

    4. SonOfDilbert
      Thumb Up

      Re: Well

      > ... because orbit is quickly going to be full of far too much shrapnel to track once the 'first strike' happens

      I have one word for you: Space Magnet.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Well

        "I have one word for you: Space Magnet."

        Balls! No, really. Space Balls. ie, This!

  3. Diogenes

    I wonder how they will overcome Newtons 3rd Law

    ♫ 'When I was a young man I carried a gun* & used to play wars with the ARes" ♫ (to tune of Bogle's 'the band played waltzing matilda')

    *defined as an M60 GPMG - the recoil on that was quite savage. Could image the satellite being nudged out of orbit by the recoil.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Twanky

        Re: I wonder how they will overcome Newtons 3rd Law

        More bazooka than machine gun, I guess.

      2. PerlyKing Silver badge

        Re: reckless

        Was that intended to be "recoilless"? Although "reckless" fits too....

        1. NetBlackOps Bronze badge

          Re: reckless

          Damned spellchucker.

    2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: I wonder how they will overcome Newtons 3rd Law

      Simples - every gun has an equal and opposite gun that fires at the same time!

      (Hopefully this post will go up without the mad spell-correct that seems to be going on in this thread)

    3. Tikimon

      Don't shoot them, Tackle them

      Any sort of space weapon system will require certain things. Assuming it's not being controlled from the ground, it will need a way to locate and track a target. It will need propulsion and maneuvering capability. And really, that's all you need. Instead of shooting or ramming the target into shrapnel, match speeds and grab it in a space tackle. Then fire the drive to push the intact target out of orbit, and/or set it spinning. Various ways to grab on, testing would find the best way.

      Someone with a better grasp of orbital mechanics than me can address this, but I don't believe it takes too much to deorbit a satellite. They only have so much maneuvering fuel, and a second Tackle can be sent if needed. It's tough for most satellites to do much useful work with a 30 RPM (unplanned) rotation, and again only so much fuel for the cursing ground controllers to resist it. Once the target is sufficiently out of control and not being boosted now and then, it might drop into the atmosphere on its own.

      Relatively simple, inexpensive, effective, and no extra space junk created. Could work.

      1. Poncey McPonceface

        Re: Don't shoot them, Tackle them

        If your front doorbell starts a-ringing this evening and you're not expecting anyone I suggest leaving the place by the back door assuming you have one otherwise hide under your bed.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Don't shoot them, Tackle them

        "Relatively simple, inexpensive, effective, and no extra space junk created. Could work."

        Don't forget, we are talking about the military mind here, not engineers and scientists. Shooting it is the first option.

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: I wonder how they will overcome Newtons 3rd Law

      I have a mental image of Snoopy on his space capable doghouse having at go at the "evil" satellites. Twin Vickers for the win.

    5. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: I wonder how they will overcome Newtons 3rd Law

      Fire first

  4. Hstubbe

    Humanity is so utterly stupid, I can't wait for us to extinguish our race once and for all by idiocy like this. We don't deserve this planet.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      At which point you'll be able to stand there and say "I told you so!"

    2. Ken 16

      Speaking as one of the morons who lives on the planet and is in the human race, I'm going to disagree with you.

    3. Poncey McPonceface

      Hey, don't lump the rest of us in with those cheese eating surrender monkeys!

      1. teknopaul Silver badge

        How can you down vote "cheese eating surrender monkeys".

        Did you not try googling "French military Victories" and hitting "I Feel Lucky". (Back in the day)

      2. CrazyOldCatMan

        those cheese eating surrender monkeys

        You mean those people without whose help the American Rebellion wouldn't have succeeded? The people who had a consitutional document that was largle copied to create the US Constitution (with some assistance from Adam Smith).

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Heck you sound the sort that XR would love as an "arrestable"

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    France... don’t be stupid.

    Let other countries blow billions putting lasers on sharks, satellites, etc.

    Might as well build a giant laser on the moon (that can be repurposed) and say it’s for asteroid deflection... that way you can just look eccentric, rather than an ass.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: France... don’t be stupid.

      Let other countries blow billions putting lasers on sharks, satellites, etc.

      No! Mr President, we cannot allow them to open up a mineshaft shark gap

    2. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: France... don’t be stupid.

      I assume France is also launching a shark to attach to the satellites and control the frikkin' laser beams.

  6. vtcodger Silver badge

    Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

    I don't know (and couldn't talk about it if I did), but my bet is that the major powers -- the US, China, Russia -- have long had the hardware in place to disable the other major power's surveillance and military communications satellites in the event of serious conflict. On paper at least disabling that stuff is not difficult. Satellite orbits are well known within a day or two of launch and they are not very maneuverable. They make supertankers look agile. Taking advantage of the satellite's orbital velocity, it is not difficult (on paper) to hit them with a spread of "buckshot" traveling at speeds on the order of 50000 km/h. That's maybe 5 times the speed of a very high velocity armor piercing round. Even grain of sand sized particles would likely punch serious holes in the lightly built targets. It may, BTW, be easier to disable satellites with a ground based system than a space based one. Trust me on this. This has surely all been thought through by the military of every country with even a token space launch capability.

    1. Twanky
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

      This is what worries me most about various 'rogue' states' space/missile programs. If they want to level the playing field and deny their enemies the advantage of space-based surveillance and communications, they don't have to achieve the capability of stable orbits themselves. They just need to throw some debris across the paths of a few satellites and start the cascade.

      (icon: How can you hear that they are black helicopters?)

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

        "Cascade is putting it a bit strongly, I'd say. Sure they would make low earth orbit a substantially more dangerous place, but if you're just hitting a couple of satellites and then waiting for debris to take care of the rest - we'll, that's likely to be a long wait.

        Decades. Long enough for your movement and its cause to be long forgotten. So the strategic value is pretty much zip.

        1. JetSetJim Silver badge

          Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

          Depends on how much junk they can shoot up there at once before their launch sites get flattened. LEO is apparently 309,038,244,000 cubic miles - I bet there's some funky military mathematician's who've worked out just how much junk to fling, and of what size shrapnel, to optimally disrupt satellites in as short a period of time possible.

          1. 96percentchimp

            Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

            I'd suspect that the volume of strategically useful orbits - covering your enemies' territory or your mutual battlegrounds etc - is much smaller.

            And since you may both want to see the same battleground areas during a conflict, denying the orbits to your adversary makes it dangerously likely that you will also deny them to yourself.

        2. Twanky

          Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

          So is the Kessler Effect not a thing to worry about? Or not a thing to worry about yet? Genuine question.

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

        They just need to throw some debris across the paths of a few satellites and start the cascade.

        I remember reading that it's possible to get up to LEO(*) using the largest Estes rocket motors in a multi-stage configuration. Mind you, an order for a few hundred maximum size motors to be sent to Iraq/Yemen/Afghanistan is going to be looked at with a degree of curiosity.

        (*) Lacking the horizontal component necessary for orbit, so the rocket comes straight back down again.

      3. MonkeyCee

        Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

        "If they want to level the playing field and deny their enemies the advantage of"

        If they've got a nuke on the end of one of them, then they could blow it up in orbit.

        Bugger denying your satellite communications, you'll wreck much of the worlds electrical grid.

        Then hope everyone else is too busy knifing their neighbours to come glass you.

        It's not something Russia/China would try. But the Norks? Stone age for everyone!

        1. STOP_FORTH

          Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

          Great rallying cry, but I'm pretty sure we could manage Iron Age technology? How long before we get to Steam Punk, though? Decades?

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

        "(icon: How can you hear that they are black helicopters?)"

        What? You mean you can't hear in colour? I'd have thought you'd at least be able to hear in blank'n'white so it should still work for you.

      5. MrReynolds2U Bronze badge

        Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

        "(icon: How can you hear that they are black helicopters?)"

        you certainly couldn't in space ;)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

      America has the X-37B

    3. Sanguma

      Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

      The Soviets and the Yanks had ASAT quite early on, by the mid-seventies at the very latest. The Chinese were next, then the Indians.

      You want a boondoggle, you get ASAT ASAP. You want fraud posing as defense, and you've got some space power status, you get ASAT. You want to pose as some sort of superpower, you get ASAT.

      ASAT are like nukes. You can't afford to use them. And like the Maginot Line, they fossilize and petrify your defense forces.

    4. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

      One problem is that if you destroy the enemies' satellites by kinetic or explosive means then the debris is likely to knacker your own kit a few orbits later.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

        >debris is likely to knacker your own kit a few orbits later.

        Collateral damage is not my department says W de Brun

      2. vtcodger Silver badge

        Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

        then the debris is likely to knacker your own kit a few orbits later.

        Near Earth space is rather large. News media alarmism notwithstanding, the short term chance of debris/stray rounds striking other satellites is (probably) rather small. Long term might -- and I emphasize MIGHT -- be a different story if a very large number of weapons ae involved. In any case, I think it is (probably) possible to arrange the weaponry such that the orbits of the weapon payloads have low perigees and any stuff that misses its target burns up within a few revolutions. Mostly that translates to "within a few hours". That's a cocktail napkin "calculation" and is not backed up by hundreds of simulations showing it to be true. Doubtless folks somewhere have run those simulations. I'm not privy to the results.

        It should be pointed out that because of Newton's inconvenient laws of motion, actual space warfare probably isn't going to look anything like Star Wars and similar movies. Nowhere near as photogenic.

    5. Cem Ayin

      Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

      "Taking advantage of the satellite's orbital velocity, it is not difficult (on paper) to hit them with a spread of 'buckshot' traveling at speeds on the order of 50000 km/h"

      Hmm, not sure it is really that easy to /take advantage of the target's orbital velocity/ in order to shoot it down. Anything you launch into a rendezvous orbit will, of necessity, have an orbital velocity that is equal or very close to that of your target, assuming the orbits are synchronized.

      You might try to hit your target "at an angle", i.e. launch it into an orbit that is inclined against your target's orbit, with the orbital elements carefully set to deliberately provoke a collision at some point, but if your relative inclination is low (making it relatively easy to hit the target), so will be the relative speed. Conversely, as the relative inclination increases, so does the difficulty of arranging for a collision.

      You could of course carry this idea further by using a relative inclination > 90 degrees, i.e. launching your "buckshot" into a retrograde orbit, ideally at a relative inclination of 180 degrees with your target. The only question is how many other satellites, including your own kit, such a Weapon of Orbital Mass Collision would take out both before and after the encounter with its intended target (and how you would go about stopping it once the deed is done...) XD

      The most promising strategy for attacking a satellite is probably arranging for a classical rendezvous orbit and then lob your destructive energy of choice (in the form of either electromagentic radiation or accelerated matter) at it from close range.

      Disclaimer: I'm not an expert, just someone who has played quite a few hours of "Orbiter", so I might be missing something.

      1. STOP_FORTH

        Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

        All satellite orbits are in or pass through equatorial plane. Send a satellite up into an elliptical orbit in equatorial plane. Apogee and perigee chosen to cover all the satellite types you want to eliminate. Then just launch proximity mines into circular orbits of the correct altitude.

        Rocket science is easy, its just the detailed calculations that are hard.

        I'm more of an arm-wavy, broad picture rocket scientist!

    6. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Anti-Satellite isn't that hard

      "It may, BTW, be easier to disable satellites with a ground based system than a space based one."

      It is - and THAT is why the laser broom system keeps getting knocked into the long grass.

      Anyone who has one not only has a feasible way of bringing down debris/dead stuff, but also has a way of disabling anything else that happens to pass over.

      As for the French: The moment they do this they're going to find their systems mysteriously failing in orbit or becoming wildly intermittent. It's not in anyone's interest to have that shit up there and the displeasure will become known. Perhaps Arianes might start 'failing' during the launching process more regularly too.

  7. Chris G Silver badge

    It's time

    For all politicians to be required to carry a health warning.

    "Caution! Allowing this politician to speak, act or sign anything, may result in death, destruction of property, loss of health and wealth or planetary loss."

    Why do we vote in people who can be put in charge of things they don't, won't or can't understand?

    1. Twanky

      Re: It's time

      I blame the people.

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: It's time

      Why do we vote in people who can be put in charge of things they don't, won't or can't understand? ... Chris G

      Why do intelligence services permit it is a greater question to try avoid answering, Chris G? One cannot hold the people who be totally ignorant of critically important situations responsible, can one? The buck stops right at the top of the intelligence service tree.

      Is it anything more or other than just a lack of necessary prime leading intelligence?

      It appears then that such services are definitely fraudulent, and not at all what they are portrayed or purported to be?

    3. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: It's time

      I don't understand what process politicians go through which makes them experts on everything. When they talk about my sphere of specialisation or about things which require logic and/or common sense, it seems to me that 99% of the things that 99% of them say is complete bollocks.

      But maybe I'm getting it wrong, maybe they talk sense about all that other stuff that I don't know about...

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: It's time

        Coming into power gives them a second childhood, or more specifically a second teenager-hood?

        Look at the evidence - they know everything, experiment in all sorts of drugs and will shag anything they can get their hands on...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's time

          Then go into full moral outrage ban EVERYTHING mode - see SNP plan to ban - strip clubs, porn and anyting else they deem "normalising misogyny" and all while ignoringthe will of the Scottish Parliament who voted AGAINST banning porn not that long ago.....

          Then again in Nippy's world its keep trying till you get your own way and stuff the party full of rad fems full of moral outrage, authoritarian tendencies and misandry

      2. MonkeyCee

        Re: It's time

        "I don't understand what process politicians go through which makes them experts on everything. "

        They are good at the process of getting selected, and OK at getting elected.

        They expend most of their energy and ability getting and holding power in their own party. This is a pretty difficult thing (lots of smart people all trying to manipulate each other).

        Brexit is, in part, a result of the Tories trying to deal with their euroskeptic wing by challenging them, and turns out it was closer than DC thought.

        The other issue is that "a crisis is too good to waste". So you only really get to push a legislative agenda in response to a perceived crisis. Thus they are all keen on some crisis, but ideally one that is controllable (man made rather than natural) and not understood well. So they want to perpetuate the crisis until they get the reins of power.

        With brexit, it's a very handy crisis, which no-one wants to try and solve until it's first wrecked their opponent.

        The notion that none of them have any way of actually dealing with it may have escaped them, since the oppertunity to knife the opposition, or even better, their internal opponants, is too good to miss.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Today I learned bullets contain oxidiser meaning they fire in a vacuum. Who are they going to shoot though? To defend against other satellites they would need them to be able to shoot all directions and a way of aiming them which could require some hefty calculations and the ability to identify them as a target correctly, plus if they get disabled how are they going to do that?

    1. CountCadaver

      Mount a GAU-8 / GAU-12 on it?

  9. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Word of the day

    At least I can say I've learned a new word today - Taiga.

    El Reg never ceases to educate. Now if only they'd tell us how they're going to fit the sharks into the satellites?

    1. the Jim bloke Silver badge

      Re: Word of the day

      The sharks will be carried externally,

      They are still working on attaching launch engines onto remoras, to carry the laser equipped sharks into orbital space, but once they do, just look out, okay.... It will be frikkin awesome!

      There will be bits of satellites, and sharks, and -we need some way to get squids up there-, and probably bears, because russia.. and all sorts of stuff falling out of the sky all over the place...

      1. STOP_FORTH

        Re: Word of the day

        Real sharks would need an oygen supply. Why not just build the satellite in the shape of a shark? You can then make the laser as big as you like.

      2. AceRimmer1980

        Re: All sorts of stuff falling out of the sky

        What country has the whale, and a lovely petunia arrangement?

      3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Word of the day

        It's French - so the plan is presumably lorry drivers with laser beams attached

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Word of the day

          It's French - so the plan is presumably lorry drivers with laser beams attached

          Or farmers setting fire to satellites.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Word of the day

            ...or launching flaming sheep at the targets.

            They may have to modify the calculations since I don't think anyone has managed to breed an actual spherical sheep yet.

            1. STOP_FORTH

              Re: Word of the day

              Where do they get pom-poms from then?

              Ewe don't know do ewe?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This s**t needs to be stopped NOW

    Nothing else to say.

  11. A Non e-mouse Silver badge


    Machine guns in space sounds like a very silly plan to me. Controlling the recoil from the weapon is going to be a challenge.

    1. John Jennings Silver badge

      Re: Recoil

      The russians had a 20mm auto canon (and tested it) in the 1970's fitted to modified Salut space stations - the Almaz project.

      The US proposed under kennedy to have nukes on space stations. - and what do you think the X-39 is for?

      China and possibly India have proven the tech previously.

      Why shouldn't ESA/the french?

      Machineguns in space would be just another weapon up there. The concern on corrupting the orbits is not as much as is painted. What goes up, eventually comes down. It might take 20 years. Targets are likely LEO spysats, so decay relatively quickly.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Recoil

        "The US proposed under kennedy to have nukes on space stations. - and what do you think the X-39 is for?"

        Not quite - and the USA already knew full well what a nuke in space could do thanks to a series of tests in the late 1950s that abruptly ended with Starfish Prime - which is when "EMP" became part of the lexicon. There's a bloody good reason there's never been another one.

        When the Orion project was pitched to Kennedy some twats dressed up the proposed station as a fortress in space bristling with weaponry - as he'd already been trying to de-escalate the nuclear arms race (pending atmospheric test ban treaty) he was horrified at what _would_ send the soviets into a screaming tizzy fit and essentially shut the whole thing down the next day. If they'd kept to the mars probe plans history might well be a lot different.

        Watch "To Mars by A-Bomb" sometime.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Recoil

        "What goes up, eventually comes down. It might take 20 years."

        Yeah, depends on the orbit and outside influences. Prospero has been up there for a while now. Our most well known satellite, the Moon has been there a while and likely to be there a while longer too :-)

  12. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    For defense. Yeah, sure.

    Defense against what, a collision ? No laser can help with that, you'd have to blow the incoming satellite apart. I don't think they're planning on adding gigawatt lasers to already hefty spy sats - Ariane would need a new class of boosters to lift all that mass. Machine guns are likely not enough either, and the recoil will really mess with the orbit and cost fuel to get back to where it's supposed to be.

    So this looks more like seeing another spy sat getting into position to shoot yours, and you preempt the attack by retaliating first. That puts you in shoes of the attacker, especially if you misinterpret the maneuvering.

    The whole idea is ridiculous. Much better to lose a satellite, blame it on whoever is responsible and not get blamed for the cloud of debris that will take them all out.

    On the other hand, it's my government we're talking about. They couldn't get troops to Afghanistan with the proper equipment, so I don't worry much about them getting a laser-equipped satellite into space. This is just political posturing.

    1. USER100

      Re: For defense. Yeah, sure.

      "the recoil will really mess with the orbit and cost fuel to get back to where it's supposed to be."

      The recoil need not mess with the orbit if the weapon is built to simultaneously fire an equal number of rounds in the opposite direction out into space. That might kill an alien on some faraway planet in a few million years' time, but the alien government would probably cover it up anyway.

      (However, I agree the whole idea it totally stupid and should be binned immediatley).


    22 years late

    Kubrick had orbiting weapons in 2001.

  14. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Are you so ingenuous to believe there's no weapon already in space embedded in Russian, American and Chinese satellites?

    1. Sanguma

      no weapon already in space embedded ... in satellites

      Kosmos-2251 and Iridium 33 did the job quite satisfactorily without the bother of having to have weaponry on them. It's kinda like driving a car while blind drunk. You don't need special weaponry to take out anybody else.

      Mind you, it's also suicidal, but you don't notice such minor details when you are blind drunk in charge of a hunk of metal traveling at speed ...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    this "news" comes remarkably quickly after that (2 weeks ago?) info on the French wanting to employ sci-fi writers by their military, to come up with solutions. But then... machine guns? I'd personally very much prefer Ian Banks' nano-missiles. Or a lazy gun :)

    1. rtharrison

      Re: lightspeed

      Just don't point the Lazy Gun at the sun. You never know what it will decide to do. :)

      1. Carpet Deal 'em

        Re: lightspeed

        "This whole resisting gravity thing is a pain. I think I'll just collapse into a nice black hole for a while."

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    France's "independence is at stake."

    whenever I hear that from any public figure ("our independence is at stake"), I get very worried indeed, as it suggests they've gone past the usual crap-spin, and reach for the most stupid of the stupidest buttons to make their stupid nationals "like" what they're planning to do...

    1. Sanguma

      Re: France's "independence is at stake."

      which will be burnt as soon as possible, deo volente and likewise the Spanish Inquisition ... you've got to get a lot of wood to burn the stake to which the Fifth Republic's Independence is tied. It doesn't happen overnight, you know ...

    2. adam 40 Silver badge

      Re: France's "independence is at stake."

      ... which is why they are still in the EU???

      Just goes to show we are better off out of it, and leave these nutters to their own devices.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: France's "independence is at stake."

        Like our lot are ANY better????

        Given our govt has opposed - mobile roaming charges abolition, working time directive, minimum wage, permitting homosexuals to serve in the military (and kept chucking people out as long as they could after the ruling)

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: France's "independence is at stake."

        "... which is why they are still in the EU???"

        Ah, but being one of the biggest and most influential members of the club means your independence and sovereignty isn't at stake. Like Germany and...erm....the UK?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    OMG, that's a cheap shot!

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: self-defense

      I wouldn't worry France would surrender long before they used it!!!

  18. TopCat62

    And there are those that wonder about the Fermi Paradox...

    The thing about a technology-capable species, is that it doesn't have to be smart. It only has to be just barely less dumb than would render it unable to invent technology at all. It absolutely doesn't have to be smart enough also to figure out how to use technology sensibly.

    So it wouldn't surprise me at all if the reason we haven't found ET yet is because they all get smart enough to invent tech, yet are still too dumb not to destroy themselves with it, as humanity seems to be hell-bent on.

    Getting smarter still, and having a chance of lasting millions of years, may be less likely than eukaryotes evolving from single-celled life. The dinosaurs only lasted so long probably, because of their silly little arms. If they'd had opposable thumbs, they'd have wiped themselves out long before the Chicxulub meteor did them in.

  19. Sanguma

    On quite the other paw

    Just think of the programming expertise you'd need to be able to calculate the trajectory of the shells fired by on-board machine-guns!!! Insufficient reaction mass and overly great distance, and the shell falls out of orbit. Too much and the shell takes up a higher orbit. Getting the wrong angle and your shell goes any which way but ...

    It makes naval gunnery look like picking one's nose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: On quite the other paw

      Not sure it's either useful or practical either. Given the dispersion of an aircraft cannon is probably a mil or so, I would expect the effective range against another small satellite to be around 2000m, and that's a bit late to be trying to stop it hitting you if it's going say 3000m/s :-)

  20. 2+2=5 Silver badge


    > and the Oscar-winning film Gravity turned it in a compelling and terrifying disaster movie in 2013

    There is a certain degree of analogy: the film was all special effects and barely any plot; the French plan seems quite similar.

    ['none' icon - nearest thing to a white projection screen!]

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Gravity

      "the film was all special effects and barely any plot; the French plan seems quite similar."

      The russians came to much the same conclusion about their cannon-weilding salyuts - the intention was to repel boarders when unoccupied but they proved supremely impractical the one and only time they were tested.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Paint Ball!

    If you want to knock out a satellite by disabling its solar panels then using a machine gun is a dumb approach for all the reasons outlined above. Use a paintball gun instead. Low mass, cancel out the inertial effects by puffing some gas in the opposite direction.

    Better still, send up a bunch of the graffiti "artists" that ply their trade around here to leave their tags on the solar panels. Don't bring them back. Two problems solved in one go. What is there not to like.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Paint Ball!

      You could extend that to somewhat larger and not necessarily fast paintballs, think paint filled condoms in space aimed at adversaries's satellites. Just send them off with a nudge on the right trajectory and wait.

  22. AIBailey

    My vote...

    ...would be for a giant boxing glove on an extending scissor arm.

    No worries about high speed projectiles littering space, and especially funny if the French keep it a secret until it's first deployed.

  23. kev4d

    Assuming they are concerned with LEO targets, why not just transmit a focused microwave pulse from a ground station and fry the electronics?

    If this were America we were talking about I could answer my own question... Billions to defense contractors for an orbital ASAT capability someday (maybe) or millions for a more reliable but boring solution we could have next week. No contest, we propose the billion dollar "machine guns in space!" solution.

    It seems easier for the US military to get approval for expensive spectacular boondoggles than for sane solutions that may actually work... B-2, LCAC or F35 for recent examples. Maybe the French have the same issue or maybe I'm just projecting my own nation's issues on to another?

    1. David Shaw

      I found an open, non classified, NATO science doc, long time ago

      that suggested using microwave vircator amplifiers, emits terawatt (short) pulses into a directional antenna, can be driven by a Sakharov device. (there are other docs around such as this RG from Romania ;

      Now, where in sat might one find a nice cool high-vacuum like environment, meaning that a virtual cathode amplifier/oscillator could be pointed at something nearby (not needing the ground station and the associated distance inverse square power degradation) (inverse square can be defeated a bit by laser conducting plasma channels - but actually having a simple & compact terawatt or two in space means that I'm pretty sure that these will already be in orbit....)

      so machine guns in space against a terawatt input to an antenna with gain tuned to a particular target's 'notch' frequency - who will win?

    2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Microwave It

      @Kev4d: ignoring atmospheric loss, the free space loss at 2.4GHz for a LEO at 100 miles is 144dB. If you used Jodrell Bank, with a gain of 63dB at 2.4GHz, and put in a terawatt you'd get about 7kw at the target, probably not much more than a medium-sized satellite gets from the sun.

      A bigger dish is what you need; however, one with 144dB gain might be difficult to aim cos it'll be about 900km in diameter.

      Caution - just got back from the pub so there might be some errors. Don't start building anything without checking the calcs.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If space was closed by junk then ICBMs wouldn't work.


      Re: Upside...

      A proper iron curtain! Probably not made of iron though?

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Upside...

      If space was closed by junk then ICBMs wouldn't work.

      One of the (many) problems faced by Anti-Ballistic-Missile (ABM) systems is that it is perfectly possible to mix a bunch of "junk" in with the ICBM warhead(s). This would presumably be high volume, low mass stuff -- e.g. aluminized balloons designed to have a radar cross-section/signature similar to a warhead. The technical term is "decoys". The warheads will, presumably, be decorated to look like something other than warheads -- a second stage tank fragment perhaps. Eventually, drag will separate the dense warheads from the low-mass decoys, but decoys would make effective mid-flight interception quite difficult if not impossible. I think ABM systems are more popular with politicians than those who design, build and test them.

      1. 96percentchimp

        Re: Upside...

        IIRC that's why a lot of ABM systems are designed to hit ICBMs during the boost phase before decoys can be deployed.

  25. Chairman of the Bored

    But.. French machine guns?

    I'd make a crack about them having thousands of surplus chauchats "never fired but dropped once" but that's kind of like fishing in a barrel.

    Please tell me they will use a Browning or even an old, reliable Tommy gun. Dear <insert deity> not another French submachine gun. Seriously.

    1. baud

      Re: But.. French machine guns?

      Since the next assault rifle of the Army, to replace the FAMAS, is going to be sourced from Germany, from H&K, it's not a stretch to think that they won't use a French-made gun;

  26. Derezed


    It's not just "The Russia". "The China" and "The America" probably want to do this too.

  27. Stevie Silver badge


    Well zut, the Russians have Goldeneye, the Norks have Icarus, and after the fiasco with that idiotic orchid juice idea machine guns don't seem to much to ask, do they?

  28. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    A necessarily MAD balance of forces

    The whole "no weapons in space" thing was nothing more or less than political posturing. You cannot have economic exploitation without a legal framework. A legal framework is worthless without enforcement. Yeah. Notice those five letters in the middle? "Force". What kind of force is there in space if not military?

    So, yes. A balance of terror is required. Actors who rationally value safe access to LEO won't start things, but they WILL credibly signal their ability to deploy ASAT if not full Kessler. And as long as no actors (Iran) that don't particularly care about safe access to LEO get ASAT, you are okay.

    France is late to the party, but apparently is playing Reagan's "crazy-scary like a fox" line for some reason.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But if it's a French military satellite

    I'd expect it to follow the great tradition of the French army and retreat from any space battle and then get blown up by the Germans.

    So we're all really still quite safe.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But if it's a French military satellite

      Yes, but only if there is a British satellite to absorb the German satellite's onslaught first and an American satellite ... late to the party ... to lend a hand ... and a whole crapload of Russian satellites to smack the German one from the other side.

  30. JimmyPage

    Just flying a kite here

    I'll start by disclaiming any expertise in anything, so this is a blue-sky (literally) idea.

    Surely a powerful enough laser could heat a satellite in orbit enough to shift it out of position ? Not sure how robust these things are, but it's a damn sight cheaper to throw photons at something than real mass ?

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Just flying a kite here

      My understanding is that satellites usually weigh in the range of tons, so that would be tough.

      The issue is not the satellite, it's the debris left over. Much harder to track from the ground.

  31. suburbazine

    It's France. We'll soon have entire guns floating around in orbit after their satellites drop them.

  32. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    There's nothing to worry about, the French will surrender

  33. KSM-AZ

    Carbon Fiber Net

    Trying to shoot something in space with a simple projectile is stupid. Calculate, match, then , Send a carbon fiber net from a higher orbit down. Small light easy to deploy. You can make the net *BIG* say 10CM squares, with hair size strands.1/2 klick square deployed.

    Best case you drag the mess into the gravity well. Worst you slice it into 10cm bricks, hopefuly tumbling earthward, and your net burns up on the way down.

  34. IGotOut Silver badge

    Clichés abiund

    For those thatkeep trotting out the French retreating, I suggest you check your history.

    Check out the numbers killed at the Battle of the Frontiers in ONE DAY. Now compare that to a decade of the Vietnam war. Remind me who quit?

    Also anyone that knows anything about Dunkirk, will know, about from Hitler's cock up, it was the French that saved our arses, by staying back to hold of the advance.

    Also check the number of troops they deployed compared to the UK when we declared war on Germany.

    We had this advantage called the English channel, if we hadn't, it could of been a whole different outcome.

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Clichés abiund

      You play the hand you are dealt. England's oversized moat meant that for centuries, the British Navy had the roll of "the man on the wall". If not, they would have invested their resources otherwise.

    2. GrumpyKiwi

      Re: Clichés abiund

      Yep if it wasn't for the channel then we'd be talking about Beef Eating Surrender Monkeys as well. Neither the UK nor the French covered themselves in glory in the Battle for France in 1940. Fortunately both had the opportunity to make up for it later.

    3. Chairman of the Bored

      Re: Clichés abiund

      Of course the 500-plus rifle and 50 mechanized divisions the Soviets threw against the Axis pretty much saved everyone's butt. Some 30M lost on the Eastern Front. Have to give credit where it is due...

  35. Aquatyger

    Machine guns in space

    I suspect that current machine guns would be impractical because of vacuum welding of metal surfaces. Using grease to prevent this from happening would cause the grease to disperse volatiles and start to harden. It would be a sad event if the guns ( were started up and the barrels refused to rotate and the ammunition refuse to feed. Quelle horreur!

  36. Norman123

    When will they ever learn? when will they ever learn!

    Every time someone develops a weapon, someone else feels threatened and develops a trap or a more threatening weapon. I suppose as long as the civilian economy is playing dead, the military industrial complex maggots will keep munching on it until it is gone.....

  37. Evil Harry

    I can't help thinking of Moonraker ... (yes the crap Bond movie) ;)

  38. Giovani Tapini

    Mutually Assured Destruction

    It is relatively trivial to destroy or disabling satellites with accelerated masses, particularly has you are likely to have some relative orbital speed differences reducing the need for tedious mucking about with cordite etc.

    The simple countermeasure is to make sure your satellite explodes into thousands of tiny shards making it a far bigger hazard destroyed than operational.

    Unless you can take down a satellite by simply attaching an engine to it and de-orbiting whole, it you are assured of only one thing, cloaking the planet in a blanket of our own debris that will do nobody any good and frankly isn't really even a sensible military position to take.

  39. mhenriday

    One missing

    China and Russia and the US have become increasingly aggressive and have carried out tests to shoot down satellites.
    Culpable negligence, Mr McCarthy ; you have, willy-nilly, ignored the shooting down of one of their own satellites by the Indians (of the South Asian, not the North American, variety) in Mission Shakti on 27 March this year. Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi, the tea-seller's son, was, I am told on good authority, thrilled....


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