Effects of Chinese Laser Ranging on Imaging Satellites

Yousaf Butt, "Effects of Chinese Laser Ranging on Imaging Satellites," Science & Global Security, 17, no. 1, (2009): 20-35.
Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) is a widely used technique for determining the orbits of objects in space with high accuracy. There are at least 40 satellite laser ranging stations located in 23 countries. These stations are part of an international scientific collaboration, the International Laser Ranging Service, based at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, USA, which collects, merges, analyzes, and distributes data. There are seven known laser ranging stations in China. The average laser power employed at most of the of the Chinese stations is below 1 watt, although experimental systems of approximately 40 watts have been used to characterize objects such as space debris. This paper describes the potential effects of satellite laser ranging on earth-imaging satellites. It posits that although there are some circumstances that will result in permanent damage, in most cases laser ranging would have a low probability of permanent damage to the satellite's sensitive imaging sensor (detector). Due to the low probability of damage, laser ranging is an ineffective anti-satellite weapon. Nonetheless, the potential for even some damage warrants development of international rules governing satellite laser ranging.

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