10 Most-Terrifying Space Weapons

10 Most-Terrifying Space Weapons

The Space Race saw the world’s two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, embark upon a competition during the height of the Cold War to see who could achieve supremacy in spaceflight capability. The Russians managed to get the first artificial satellite (Sputnik 1) into space, as well as the first human (Yuri Gagarin), while the US won the race to land on the Moon as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked across its surface after navigating Apollo II there in 1969.

Yet one other frightening and disconcerting development during the Cold War was the race to militarise space. Throughout the second-half of the 20th Century, the USA and the USSR looked to exhaust every possible avenue they could in order to get ahead of one another – and that included developing weapons that could be operated from, or sent up into, space.

Although some of the ideas were extremely far-fetched and never got past the proposal stage, such as re-directing asteroids to smash into the Earth’s surface, other projects including space-dwelling nuclear missiles, anti-satellite weapons and laser guns did become a reality.

So here are 10 of the weapons that have have been created or proposed for use in space – and its a quacky and extremely-frightening list…

10. Space Lasers (Both Handheld And Cannon-Sized)

 Laser guns may seem to be something that you would only ever find in Star Wars – but unbelievably they have actually been developed in the past to be used in space.

In terms of handheld weaponry, just as you would see a Stormtrooper using in Star Wars, the USSR developed a prototype energy weapon for their cosmonauts in 1984. Using a magazine to reload, this weapon used pyrotechnic flashbulb technology in order to project a beam at a person up to 20metres away. Although they were never actually manufactured and sent into space, the possibility of a laser war is something that should put the frighteners up you…

Another futuristic creation developed and proposed by both the Soviets and the Americans during the Cold War was a rocket, shuttle or satellite that could house a laser rocket – meaning long-range laser beams could be fired either at Earth or other objects.

In fact, the Soviets even claimed in 1984 that they managed to fire a combination of ruby and carbon-dioxide lasers at the US’ Terra-3 site to target the Space Shuttle Challenger, and that it caused the spacecraft to malfunction and the crew to feel distress. The US denied this story, but the Soviets were adamant…

9. Space-Dwelling Nuclear Missiles

Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) may have been developed since the 1950s and may be able to reach targets more than 3,000miles away, yet the desire to have nuclear weapons that can attack targets from anywhere and everywhere means that space was always going to be the next destination for atomic bombs to reach.

During the Cold War, the USSR even deployed a “Fractional Orbital Bombardment System” between 1968 and 1983 – and, in theory, this allowed for a nuclear warhead to be placed in low-Earth orbit and later de-orbited and directed at any target on the surface of the planet.

Phased out from 1983 onwards following the SALT II international treaty of 1979, before this point the USSR did, at times, keep nuclear warheads orbiting the Earth’s surface – primed and ready to strike any potential targets.

Various international treaties, including the “Outer Space Treaty”, in theory make such actions as having nuclear warheads in space illegal – but when has international law ever stopped aggressor nations from acting irresponsibly?

8. Anti-Satellite Weapons

 Anti-satellite weapons basically serve exactly the purpose their name suggests – to incapacitate and destroy satellites orbiting the Earth.

Although various forms of this weapon have been developed by many nations down the years – including the US, the USSR, China and India – the most common is the “directed-energy weapon” (DEW).

DEWs emit highly-focused energy at a target with the intention of damaging or disabling it. The energy used could be electromagnetic radiation, particle-beam weapons, or indeed through sonic rays.

The US even blew up one of its own satellites in 2008 due to the fact it was decaying from orbit at a rate of 500metres per day – so the government fired an RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 ABM at it. Although successful, this and various other examples have convinced most nations not to use anti-satellite weapons because the resulting debris left in space tends to be substantial.

7. Handguns In Space… As Part Of An Astronaut’s “Emergency Kit”

The potential for laser guns to be used in space has already been discussed, but both Russians and Americans have flown up into orbit with handheld firearms – and often still do.

Supposedly part of an astronaut or cosmonaut’s “emergency kit”, the purpose of the weapon was originally incase, when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft flew off course and crash-landed in the middle of nowhere. In order to protect themselves, from both animals and humans, the astronauts were given guns to carry.

Soviet cosmonauts carried the TP-82 pistol (pictured above) between 1986 and 2006 – and it had an effective firing range of an impressive 200metres, meaning the possibility of firing it at another human was not totally beyond the realms of possibility…

6. Liquid-Fuelled Nazi “Wonder” Rockets (V-2)

It will not come as a surprise to anyone that the Nazis thought they could militarise space, seeing as they attempted to militarise just about every imaginable place on Earth before that.

In fact, it was the German V-2 rocket that became the first manmade object to enter the fringes of space. This missile used a liquid-propellant rock engine and it was designed to attack Allied cities as a form of retaliation for the brutal bombings on German cities (including Dresden).

A Nazi “vengeance weapon”, more than 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets during the war – including at London and Antwerp, with 9,000 deaths as a result.

A so-called “Wunderwaffe” (“wonder-weapon”), this was one of many such “super” weapons that Adolf Hitler asked his military to experiment with building during the course of the Second World War.

5. Kamikaze-Style Satellites

 One of the most-bizarre proposals for a space-dwelling weapon, so-called “Kamikaze-style satellites” were trialled in the USSR during the Cold War.

The idea was pretty simple: send a satellite into space, leave it to orbit before, when the time was right, allowing it to lose its orbital track and fall towards a target on Earth at a huge velocity.

Thankfully this proposal never became a reality – but it remains a frightening prospect that any nation sending a satellite into space could still use it for this destructive purpose…

One of the most-bizarre proposals for a space-dwelling weapon, so-called “Kamikaze-style satellites” were trialled in the USSR during the Cold War.

4. The Polyus Spacecraft

The Soviets loved to experiment on any and everything that could give them an advantage over the Americans, particularly when it came to the Space Race. One such item they built was a prototype orbital weapons platform, equipped with its very own carbon-dioxide laser beam.

Not only that, but by the time it was complete, supposedly the Polyus had the capabilities of carrying nuclear space mines, defensive recoilless cannons and anti-satellite weapons. It was certainly an ambitious project, and one that defied just about every single international space treaty agreed upon.

First launched in May 1987, the Polyus failed to reach orbit, and it was subsequently discontinued as the Soviet Union began to break-up from within. As space weapons go it is probably the coolest, but also one of the most dangerous…

3. Orbital Nuclear Explosions

Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 proved how devastating the impact of a nuclear explosion could be, but tests in the American desert had already highlighted this to the US military.

Nuclear tests have since been carried out in deserts across the planet, in the middle of oceans – and even in space. Yes, atomic bombs have been exploded anywhere between 18miles and 340miles above the Earth’s surface in order to determine the effects of their blasts and the subsequent radiation levels left behind.

Beginning in 1958, the US was the first nation to test a nuclear weapon in outer-space, while the USSR followed suit within the next decade. The picture above is taken in Honolulu, Hawaii, and shows the debris left in the skyline by the US’ Starfish test in July 1962.

Sending nuclear bombs into space to blow-up the spacecraft and satellites of other nations – and possibly even planets – seems to be a very-real possibility after all…

2. “Star Wars” (Strategic Defense Initiative)

On March 23, 1983, US President Ronald Reagan proposed that his nation should construct a ground-based and space-based system in order to protect America from ballistic weapons – and his idea was to build the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

Nicknamed “Star Wars” after the film series by its detractors due to the fact the proposal sounded like something out of science-fiction literature, SDI was to create a defensive shield around the USA in space using laser technology as well as a ground-based system that could track incoming ballistic missiles.

Another concept of the system was to create “Brilliant Pebbles”, which were Kinetic Kill Vehicles (small rockets) that could be launched from satellites towards an incoming missile – or indeed any other target – in order to destroy it before it reached its destination.

The majority of SDI did not come to fruition, and it may have been primarily a defensive rather than offensive weapon, but Star Wars really could have changed the face of space warfare forever.

1. Re-Directing An Orbiting Asteroid To Smash Into Earth

Huge balls of rock flying across the galaxy at more than 280,000miles-per-hour, asteroids are not something that anyone wants to see colliding into the Earth.

If they ever did then the outcome would be catastrophic – the sea-levels would rise and flood the land, temperatures would plummet or rocket, and Earth could even be knocked out of its current orbit with the Sun, making the planet uninhabitable.

Essentially an asteroid landing on the surface of the Earth would bring about the Apocalypse – yet in Soviet circles during the Cold War the idea of re-directing one towards the USA was discussed.

Yes, the USSR contemplated how theoretically possible it would be to manipulate the orbit of an asteroid and then have it come crashing down to Earth. Thankfully it was quickly dismissed as being close to impossible given the technology at the time and the proposal was shelled.

Otherwise we probably wouldn’t be around today…

By Chris Waugh, WhatCulture


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