Kinetic Physical Attack: Direct Ascent ASAT

A direct-ascent ASAT is often the most commonly thought of threat to space assets. It typically involves a medium- or long-range missile launching from the Earth to damage or destroy a satellite in orbit. This form of attack is often easily attributed due to the missile launch which can be easily detected. Due to the physical nature of the attacks, they are irreversible and provide the attacker with near real-time confirmation of success. Direct-ascent ASATs create orbital debris which can be harmful to other objects in orbit. Lower altitudes allow for more debris to burn up in the atmosphere, while attacks at higher altitudes result in more debris remaining in orbit, potentially damaging other spacecraft in orbit.

ID: EX-0017.01
Sub-technique of:  EX-0017
Related Aerospace Threat IDs: 
Related ESA SPACE-SHIELD TTPs:  T2028.012
Created: 2023/04/22
Last Modified: 2023/04/22


ID Name Description NIST Rev5
CM0009 Threat Intelligence Program A threat intelligence program helps an organization generate their own threat intelligence information and track trends to inform defensive priorities and mitigate risk. Leverage all-source intelligence services or commercial satellite imagery to identify and track adversary infrastructure development/acquisition. Countermeasures for this attack fall outside the scope of the mission in the majority of cases. PM-16 PM-16(1) PM-16(1) RA-10 RA-3 RA-3(2) RA-3(3) SA-3 SA-8 SR-8
CM0074 Distributed Constellations A distributed system uses a number of nodes, working together, to perform the same mission or functions as a single node. In a distributed constellation, the end user is not dependent on any single satellite but rather uses multiple satellites to derive a capability. A distributed constellation can complicate an adversary’s counterspace planning by presenting a larger number of targets that must be successfully attacked to achieve the same effects as targeting just one or two satellites in a less-distributed architecture. GPS is an example of a distributed constellation because the functioning of the system is not dependent on any single satellite or ground station; a user can use any four satellites within view to get a time and position fix.* * CP-10(6) CP-11 CP-13 CP-2 CP-2(2) CP-2(3) CP-2(4) CP-2(5) CP-2(6) PE-21
CM0075 Proliferated Constellations Proliferated satellite constellations deploy a larger number of the same types of satellites to similar orbits to perform the same missions. While distribution relies on placing more satellites or payloads on orbit that work together to provide a complete capability, proliferation is simply building more systems (or maintaining more on-orbit spares) to increase the constellation size and overall capacity. Proliferation can be an expensive option if the systems being proliferated are individually expensive, although highly proliferated systems may reduce unit costs in production from the learning curve effect and economies of scale.* * CP-10(6) CP-11 CP-13 CP-2 CP-2(2) CP-2(3) CP-2(4) CP-2(5) CP-2(6) PE-21
CM0076 Diversified Architectures In a diversified architecture, multiple systems contribute to the same mission using platforms and payloads that may be operating in different orbits or in different domains. For example, wideband communications to fixed and mobile users can be provided by the military’s WGS system, commercial SATCOM systems, airborne communication nodes, or terrestrial networks. The Chinese BeiDou system for positioning, navigation, and timing uses a diverse set of orbits, with satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO), highly inclined GEO, and medium Earth orbit (MEO). Diversification reduces the incentive for an adversary to attack any one of these systems because the impact on the overall mission will be muted since systems in other orbits or domains can be used to compensate for losses. Moreover, attacking space systems in diversified orbits may require different capabilities for each orbital regime, and the collateral damage from such attacks, such as orbital debris, could have a much broader impact politically and economically.* * CP-11 CP-13 CP-2 CP-2(2) CP-2(3) CP-2(4) CP-2(5) CP-2(6)
CM0077 Space Domain Awareness The credibility and effectiveness of many other types of defenses are enabled or enhanced by the ability to quickly detect, characterize, and attribute attacks against space systems. Space domain awareness (SDA) includes identifying and tracking space objects, predicting where objects will be in the future, monitoring the space environment and space weather, and characterizing the capabilities of space objects and how they are being used. Exquisite SDA—information that is more timely, precise, and comprehensive than what is publicly available—can help distinguish between accidental and intentional actions in space. SDA systems include terrestrial-based optical, infrared, and radar systems as well as space-based sensors, such as the U.S. military’s Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) inspector satellites. Many nations have SDA systems with various levels of capability, and an increasing number of private companies (and amateur space trackers) are developing their own space surveillance systems, making the space environment more transparent to all users.* * CP-13 CP-2(3) CP-2(4) CP-2(5) CP-2(7) PE-20 PE-6 SI-4(17)
CM0078 Space-Based Radio Frequency Mapping Space-based RF mapping is the ability to monitor and analyze the RF environment that affects space systems both in space and on Earth. Similar to exquisite SDA, space-based RF mapping provides space operators with a more complete picture of the space environment, the ability to quickly distinguish between intentional and unintentional interference, and the ability to detect and geolocate electronic attacks. RF mapping can allow operators to better characterize jamming and spoofing attacks from Earth or from other satellites so that other defenses can be more effectively employed.* * PE-20 RA-6 SI-4(14)
CM0079 Maneuverability Satellite maneuver is an operational tactic that can be used by satellites fitted with chemical thrusters to avoid kinetic and some directed energy ASAT weapons. For unguided projectiles, a satellite can be commanded to move out of their trajectory to avoid impact. If the threat is a guided projectile, like most direct-ascent ASAT and co-orbital ASAT weapons, maneuver becomes more difficult and is only likely to be effective if the satellite can move beyond the view of the onboard sensors on the guided warhead.* * CP-10(6) CP-13 CP-2 CP-2(1) CP-2(3) CP-2(4) CP-2(5) PE-20 PE-21
CM0080 Stealth Technology Space systems can be operated and designed in ways that make them difficult to detect and track. Similar to platforms in other domains, stealthy satellites can use a smaller size, radar-absorbing coatings, radar-deflecting shapes, radar jamming and spoofing, unexpected or optimized maneuvers, and careful control of reflected radar, optical, and infrared energy to make themselves more difficult to detect and track. For example, academic research has shown that routine spacecraft maneuvers can be optimized to avoid detection by known sensors.* * CP-10(6) CP-13 SC-30 SC-30(5)
CM0081 Defensive Jamming and Spoofing A jammer or spoofer can be used to disrupt sensors on an incoming kinetic ASAT weapon so that it cannot steer itself effectively in the terminal phase of flight. When used in conjunction with maneuver, this could allow a satellite to effectively “dodge” a kinetic attack. Similar systems could also be used to deceive SDA sensors by altering the reflected radar signal to change the location, velocity, and number of satellites detected, much like digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammers used on many military aircraft today. A spacebased jammer can also be used to disrupt an adversary’s ability to communicate.* * with an ASAT weapon. CP-10(6) CP-13 CP-2 CP-2(1) CP-2(5) CP-2(7) PE-20
CM0082 Deception and Decoys Deception can be used to conceal or mislead others on the “location, capability, operational status, mission type, and/or robustness” of a satellite. Public messaging, such as launch announcements, can limit information or actively spread disinformation about the capabilities of a satellite, and satellites can be operated in ways that conceal some of their capabilities. Another form of deception could be changing the capabilities or payloads on satellites while in orbit. Satellites with swappable payload modules could have on-orbit servicing vehicles that periodically move payloads from one satellite to another, further complicating the targeting calculus for an adversary because they may not be sure which type of payload is currently on which satellite. Satellites can also use tactical decoys to confuse the sensors on ASAT weapons and SDA systems. A satellite decoy can consist of an inflatable device designed to mimic the size and radar signature of a satellite, and multiple decoys can be stored on the satellite for deployment when needed. Electromagnetic decoys can also be used in space that mimic the RF signature of a satellite, similar to aircraft that use airborne decoys, such as the ADM-160 Miniature Air-launched Decoy (MALD).* * SC-26 SC-30