WikiLeaks: the race to take control of space
The race to take control of space raged throughout much of the cold war and has previously been dominated by the Americans.
By Holly Watt 9:00PM GMT 02 Feb 2011
The initial development of anti-satellite (ASAT) weaponry occurred in
the 1950s, with both America and the Soviet Union exploring new
However, in 1967, the US, the UK and Russia agreed a treaty which banned
countries from placing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass
destruction in space.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan abandoned the treaty when he launched
the Strategic Defense Initiative to protect the US from nuclear
The system, which was intended to track and destroy inter-continental
ballistic missiles, was nicknamed Star Wars. A range of systems,
including lasers in outer space to take out the missiles at their
maximum trajectory when they left the earth’s atmosphere, was
envisioned. Tens of billions of dollars was earmarked for the scheme.
The ambitious and expensive project was meant to protect the US, but the
missile defence shield was widely criticised for being unrealistic.
By the end of the 1980s, the Star Wars plan had petered out.
But in the late nineties, President Bill Clinton revived the missile
defence shield with the so-called “Son of Star Wars” plan. The system
was supposed to protect the West against the nuclear threat from “rogue”
states such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq. However, this plan – which
has also run into controversy – is far more modest in scope as it only
involves shooting down missiles within the earth’s atmosphere. This
requires missile positions on earth with many countries reluctant to
host the American shield.
The only previously admitted successful attack on a satellite was
carried out by the Americans under in 1985, when a missile deliberately
destroyed one of their own satellites
However, in 2007 a new country announced its ASAT capacity, when China destroyed one of its own defunct satellites.
The secretive test provoked a series of tense exchanges between the US
and China, because of Western countries’ enormous dependence on
satellites and fears that the test would trigger a new space arms race