Russia is building a new ground-based laser facility for interfering with satellites orbiting overhead, according to a recent report in The Space Review. The basic idea would be to dazzle the optical sensors of other nations’ spy satellites by flooding them with laser light.
Laser technology has evolved to the point where this type of anti-satellite defense is plausible, though there is limited evidence of any nation successfully testing such a laser.
If the Russian government is able to build the laser, it would be capable of shielding a large part of the country from the view of satellites with optical sensors. The technology also sets the stage for the more ominous possibility of laser weapons that can permanently disable satellites.
How lasers work
A laser is a device for creating a narrow beam of directed energy. The first laser was developed in 1960, and since that time, there have been several types created that use different physical mechanisms to generate photons, or particles of light.
Gas lasers pump large amounts of energy into specific molecules such as carbon dioxide. Chemical lasers are powered by specific chemical reactions that release energy. Solid-state lasers use customized crystalline materials to convert electrical energy into photons. In all lasers, the photons are subsequently amplified by passing them through a special type of material called the gain medium and then focused into a coherent beam by a beam director.