Chinese scientists say they have developed a new technology that could protect satellites from attack by high-power microwave weapons. The team, from the China Academy of Space Technology, said it had completed ground testing of the technology, and aspects of it were already being used by some critical space assets. High-power microwave weapons can disable electronic equipment. Using an antenna to transmit an intense energy beam at a target in orbit, such as a satellite, they can generate an electrical surge strong enough to take it out of action, according to Li Wendong, a research engineer at CAST. That electrical current would travel into a satellite’s wiring, he said. “The electromagnetic pulses that enter the satellite will be concentrated in extremely small, weak areas with high energy density,” Li wrote in a paper published in Chinese peer-reviewed journal Spacecraft Engineering on February 15. “They create a huge amount of heat in a short time, and they will burn the semiconductors and integrated circuits in the electronic equipment.” To combat this, the team designed a device to protect a satellite’s circuitry. So far, they say the test results suggest it could not only help a satellite survive a microwave attack, but also continue to function. The biggest ground-based high-power microwave weapons – with output of several hundred megawatts – can be used to shoot down a guided missile or make a helicopter lose control, according to the paper. To test their device, the team simulated microwave attacks at different intensities. They found that a weapon would need an output of at least 1 gigawatt and a 30-metre (98-foot) wide antenna to cripple or jam a protected satellite. “This power output would be extremely difficult to achieve from an engineering point of view,” the team said in the paper. They believe the device could also help a satellite withstand attack by a space-based microwave weapon using the strongest beam available from just 30km (19 miles) away. Chinese satellite in near collision with Russian debris, space agency says The device has been designed to detect any unusual rise in conductive electrical current, and to absorb that harmful energy before it can damage the satellite’s critical components. But adding an extra device to a satellite’s circuitry could affect its performance, and the device itself could burn under intense radiation. Li’s team said they had solved these problems, without elaborating. They anticipated that the technology would be used on most new satellites launched by China in the future. According to the paper, it could also help a satellite to maintain communication in the event of electromagnetic warfare. That means if weapons are used to transmit electromagnetic pulses over a wide spectrum of radio frequencies to overwhelm the satellite’s transmitter. Or if they are used to generate signals similar to those sent by ground control to cause confusion. Li and the team said their device would allow a satellite to communicate in a frequency range too broad to jam and to jump channels at an untraceable speed. It could also potentially be used to identify and filter out fake signals, according to the paper. China’s power grid is world’s biggest – and now protected by quantum satellite But they noted that it was “an increasingly complex situation for security and defence in space”. The scientists said their technology would not be effective forever, as countries continued to make advances in microwave weapons. The United States military, for example, plans to deploy ground- and space-based directed-energy weapons – including high-power microwave weapons – by 2025. Some are said to be able to generate several gigawatts of microwave pulses. In Russia, the military is already using high-power microwave weapons. Meanwhile, Chinese scientists say they have developed a megawatt laser that could be mounted on a satellite and potentially be used to direct shock waves at a target.