A powerful enough laser beam could blind spy satellites.

A powerful enough laser beam could blind spy satellites. (Image credit: MuthuKutty/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA)

The Conversation contributed the article to Space.com's expert voices.

Iain Boyd is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

A report in The Space Review states that Russia is building a ground-based laser facility for interfering with satellites. Laser light could be used to dazzle the optical sensors of other nations' spy satellites.

There isn't much evidence that a nation has successfully tested a laser for anti-satellite defense.

It would be possible for the Russian government to build a laser that could protect a large part of the country from satellites. Laser weapons that can permanently disabling satellites are set to become a reality.

A laser is a device that creates a beam. The first laser was developed in 1960, and since then there have been many different types that use different physical mechanisms to create light.

Carbon dioxide is pumped into it's molecule by gas lasers. The chemical lasers are powered by chemical reactions. Crystalline materials are used to make solid-state lasers. The photons are amplified by passing them through a special type of material called the gain medium and then focused into a coherent beam by a beam director.

Laser effects

A range of effects can be created by the directed beam of energy created by a laser. A laser can deliver light to its target if the photon are in the visible part of the spectrum.

A laser can heat, melt, and even burn through the material it's targeting.

Laser applications

Laser pointers, printers, DVD players, and medical surgery procedures are just some of the ways in which lasers can be used. Lasers are being developed as an alternative to radio wave technology.

Military operations use lasers in large numbers. The Airborne Laser is used by the US military to shoot down missiles. The laser was mounted on a plane. The program was doomed due to the challenges of thermal management and maintenance.

The U.S. military experimented with mounting a powerful laser on a large jet aircraft, with the goal of shooting down incoming ballistic missiles.

The U.S. military experimented with mounting a powerful laser on a large jet aircraft, with the goal of shooting down incoming ballistic missiles. (Image credit: US Missile Defense Agency)

The Large Aircraft Infrared Counter Measures (LAIRCM) system protects aircraft from heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. LAIRCM shines light from a solid-state laser into the missile sensor as it approaches the aircraft, causing the weapon to become67531 and lose track of its target.

Solid-state lasers have led to a lot of new military applications. Lasers are being mounted on Army trucks and Navy ships to defend against small targets such as drones. The use of lasers on aircraft is being studied.

The Russian laser

There is a new Russian laser facility. It's purpose is to dazzle and temporarily blind the optical sensors of satellites. The U.S. LAIRCM involves saturating the sensors with enough light to prevent them from working. A sufficient amount of light needs to be delivered to the satellite sensor. This is not an easy task given the distances involved and the fact that the laser beam must first pass through the atmosphere.

Laser pointed into space is not new. The Apollo 15 mission placed meter-sized reflectors on the moon that were targeted by lasers on Earth to provide positioning information. The optical system and the laser power level are what determines the amount of photon delivered.

According to a report, Kalina is able to produce about 1,000 joules per square centimeters. The power of a laser used for surgery for the eye is only about one tenth of what it is. There is a large fraction of the photon generated by Kalina. It is possible to do this because lasers form collimated beams that travel in parallel. A telescope with a diameter of several meters is used to focus Kalina's beam.

There are spy satellites that operate at an altitude of a few hundred km. It usually takes these satellites a few minutes to pass over a point. Kalina needs to be able to operate continuously for a long time. The functions are done by the telescope.

Kalina would be able to target an overhead satellite for hundreds of miles. It is possible to shield a large area from intelligence gathering by using optical sensors on satellites. Roughly forty thousand square miles is the state of Kentucky.

Russia claims to have a less capable truck-mounted laser dazzling system. There is no proof that it has been successful.

It is possible to permanently damage the sensors if the laser power levels keep increasing. Policy considerations are associated with using lasers in this way. It could be considered an act of aggression to destroy a space-based sensor.

Lasers in space

Laser weapons could be deployed in space. There is no atmosphere to weaken the beam and the systems are highly effective. In comparison to ground systems, the power levels needed for space-based lasers would be greatly reduced.

If a satellite is damaged, space-based lasers can be used to destroy it.

Laser weapons are more likely to be used in space. What are the repercussions?

Under a Creative Commons license, this article is re-posted. The article is open in a new tab.

Become a part of the discussion and follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates on social media. The author's views do not represent those of the publisher.