“The die is cast,” Suetonius reports Julius Caesar said as he exhorted his men to cross the river Rubicon and created the popular idiom for a point of no return. The long-held Rubicon in space, the deployment and use of so-called space weapons, was crossed long ago by both the former Soviet Union and the United States. Still, many have claimed that it is possible to turn back history’s pages and preserve space as a sanctuary.
If there were ever serious doubts about the impossibility of that dream, they are dispelled now. Last fall, when reports that China had used lasers to “blind” a U.S. satellite were made public, the Rubicon of space was crossed (again) and now we learn that China has demonstrated successful anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities launched from earth.1 In destroying their own satellite, China has signaled to the world its capability to threaten essential satellites directly, by physically destroying them, and indirectly, by using lasers and other jamming techniques to deny free use of them.
The Chinese die is cast. They are a military space power and a force the U.S. must reckon with immediately.