1980 Societal Assessment of SPS

a. Threats posed by the SPS The present Reference System design of the SPS, without modification, has only modest military support capabilities. The transportation system would be advantageous for military activities involving the transport of large quantities of equipment and personnel. The power satellites, the LEO and GEO bases, and many of the space transportation system vehicles could also be used to support maintenance and repair of military satellites and spacecraft. However, use of SPS elements in these support roles would not be as effective as dedicated military systems designed specifically for these missions. Other support functions of major tactical or strategic significance could be added: (1) substitution of laser for microwave transmission would turn the satellite into a potential power source for military satellites or allow long-duration flights for high-altitude laser-powered military aircraft; (2) using orbital facilities as laboratories for development or stockpiling of chemical and biological warfare agents; and (3) making large quantities of electrical power available for electronic warfare jammers and direct broadcast (psychological warfare). Weapons modules, such as directed energy weapons, antisatellite systems or reentry vehicles for earth bombardment, could also be added to the SPS. However, none of these weapons, except for reentry vehicles with nuclear warheads, would pose the same lethal threat as the current strategic arsenals of the nuclear powers. A self-defense capability with appropriate safeguards might ultimately be acceptable, but the addition of any threatening capabilities whatever would be highly destabilizing to international relations. b. SPS Vulnerabilities The Reference System satellite would be especially vulnerable to the electromagnetic pulse effects of nuclear detonations. The entire 60-satellite space segment could be destroyed by one well-placed nuclear detonation. However, since other spacecraft (including those of the attacker) would be damaged or destroyed, use of nuclear weapons does not appear to be a likely threat. Since ground-based systems can also be destroyed by nuclear explosions, the satellites' nuclear vulnerability is not unique. The various elements of the SPS are vulnerable to a variety of types of attack (e.g., attack by non-nuclear weapons, sabotage, mutiny, strikes, electronic warfare), but are inherently no more vulnerable than existing elements