Defense Tech on the Chinese shooting down satellites if war were to break out:
China has shown it can destroy a satellite in orbit. What could the U.S. do to stop Beijing, if it decided to attack an American orbiter next? Short answer: nothing.
It takes about 20 minutes to fire a ballistic missile into space, and have its “kill vehicle” strike a satellite at hypersonic speed — over 15,000 miles per hour — in low-earth orbit. That’s far too quick for anything in the American arsenal to respond, in time. There’s “no possibility of shielding” a relatively-fragile satellite against such a strike. “And it is impractical [for a satellite] to carry enough fuel to maneuver away even if you had specific and timely warning of an attack,” Center for Defense Information analyst Theresea Hitchens notes.
The American military today counts on its satellites to relay orders, guide troops across battlefields, and spy on enemy hideouts. The U.S. Air Force’s primer for war in space — “Doctrine Document 2-2.1: Counterspace Operations” — lists a number of measures that can be taken to protect American assets in orbit, including “deploying satellites into various orbital altitudes and planes” and “employing frequency-hopping techniques to complicate jamming.” But those tactics are used to preserve the U.S. satellite constellation as a whole. None of them could save a single American orbiter against a direct attack. “Physical hardening of structures mitigates the impact of kinetic effects, but is generally more applicable to ground-based facilities than to space-based systems due to launch-weight considerations,” the Air Force document notes. “Maneuver[ing] is limited by on-board fuel constraints, orbital mechanics, and advanced warning of an impending attack. Furthermore, repositioning satellites generally degrades or interrupts their mission.”