Non-Kinetic Physical Attack: High-Powered Laser

A high-powered laser can be used to permanently or temporarily damage critical satellite components (i.e. solar arrays or optical centers). If directed toward a satellite’s optical center, the attack is known as blinding or dazzling. Blinding, as the name suggests, causes permanent damage to the optics of a satellite. Dazzling causes temporary loss of sight for the satellite. While there is clear attribution of the location of the laser at the time of the attack, the lasers used in these attacks may be mobile, which can make attribution to a specific actor more difficult because the attacker does not have to be in their own nation, or even continent, to conduct such an attack. Only the satellite operator will know if the attack is successful, meaning the attacker has limited confirmation of success, as an attacked nation may not choose to announce that their satellite has been attacked or left vulnerable for strategic reasons. A high-powered laser attack can also leave the targeted satellite disabled and uncontrollable, which could lead to collateral damage if the satellite begins to drift. A higher-powered laser may permanently damage a satellite by overheating its parts. The parts most susceptible to this are satellite structures, thermal control panels, and solar panels.

ID: EX-0018.02
Sub-technique of:  EX-0018
Related Aerospace Threat IDs: 
Related ESA SPACE-SHIELD TTPs:  T2028.005 | T2049.002
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
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)
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
CM0085 Electromagnetic Shielding Satellite components can be vulnerable to the effects of background radiation in the space environment and deliberate attacks from HPM and electromagnetic pulse weapons. The effects can include data corruption on memory chips, processor resets, and short circuits that permanently damage components.* * CP-13 PE-18 PE-19 PE-21
CM0086 Filtering and Shuttering Filters and shutters can be used on remote sensing satellites to protect sensors from laser dazzling and blinding. Filters can protect sensors by only allowing light of certain wavelengths to reach the sensors. Filters are not very effective against lasers operating at the same wavelengths of light the sensors are designed to detect because a filter that blocks these wavelengths would also block the sensor from its intended mission. A shutter acts by quickly blocking or diverting all light to a sensor once an anomaly is detected or a threshold is reached, which can limit damage but also temporarily interrupts the collection of data.* * CP-13 PE-18 SC-5 SC-5(3)