I'm no rocket scientist, but I'm filthy rich. I'd enough money to launch a few private satellites. My master plan is to turn my next satellite into a weapon. Specifically, it will be a laser gun, but in orbit.

Now, hiring a engineer who know how to work with both weapon and satellite is tricky, but I know a guy. The thing is, I want to know if it was in fact, plausible. There's no point hiring anyone if your plan is doomed to fail from the beginning, right?

Anyway, the weapon I had in mind don't do anything flashy as vaporizing cities, I only want it to be able to start fires with accuracy, for example, heat a running tank truck to explosion, or just to burn things in general.

I figured a solar power may not have enough energy to do that, but what else could I use as power source? And then accuracy itself is hard to achieve, how do I get it to track a moving vehicle?

  • $\begingroup$ I just want to point out: short wavelength radiation will get deflected by the ozone layer/urban dust dome/pollution, so you're not going to be able to precisely microwave a running tank truck/that pesky IRS officer/etc. $\endgroup$
    – Tony
    Aug 25, 2016 at 5:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ why shouldn't a huge lens be powerful enough? It works for ants, doesn't it? (disclaimer: no ants were harmed by this comment) $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Aug 25, 2016 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Tony the question was about lasers not masers or microwaves generally and laser based adaptive optics are remarkably good at compensating for distortion as evidenced by their use in ranges from astronomy to opthamology. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2016 at 6:43
  • $\begingroup$ This is not what you ask, but a separate quesiont, but how many shots do you want to get before some insensitive soul destroy your shiny toy? Those pesky heroes... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-satellite_weapon $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    Aug 25, 2016 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ How about giving your weapon kinetic impactors instead? The satellite has a coil gun and a stock of large steel obloids, rods or balls. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2016 at 15:43

2 Answers 2


This can be done, but doing it with a satellite based laser is doing it the hard way. If you want to weaponise a satellite use it for what it's best at: communicating.

Hire yourself a team of hackers. Give them the world's best anonymity shield. And set them to work hacking the world's toasters. Soon you are starting fires all over. That tank truck will burn nicely after it's breaking system has been reprogrammed. After the driver somehow rolls away to safety his cellphone's battery starts to burn.

Sure, it's not a flashy death ray from above. But it is a death ray, from above.

Burn you technophiles! Burn!

Now excuse me, I'm going to go unplug my toaster.


Don't confuse power with energy. Up until the nuclear age every weapon's energy source ultimately arose from solar power. Solar power collectors might limit the firing rate by taking time to do the charging but they could still charge a large number of capacitors to a large voltage sufficient to pump a laser.

While it's bulky you could, since money is no object, ferry up materials for chemically pumped lasers one of which is what was firing out of a Boeing 747 as a test bed for an anti-nuclear missile defense system. Not a regular 747 mind you, it was a special one-off flying laser-weapon platform. Commercial airliners have an alarming dearth of laser weapons. If they corrected this shortcoming they might discourage those wannabe terrorists who go shining lasers into cockpits.

For other power sources consider Project Excalibur. The tldr is space-based x-ray laser powered by nuclear bomb to shoot down ICBMs, you know the old saying, fight nuclear fire with nuclear fire.

Tracking isn't that hard, guided missiles already track targets using radar, thermal IR, and optical systems and you can always have someone point and click a mouse or toggle a little joystick. There's no reason I can think of that such a system shouldn't be readily adaptable to your purposes. 1000 mW lasers are already being used to light cigarettes (typically at short range) so time on target doesn't need to be that long for a weaponised laser. Soon you'll be setting fires worldwide from the comfort of your own submarine volcano base just as nature intended.

  • $\begingroup$ The Wikipedia entry on Project Excalibur gives a rosier picture of nuclear bomb powered x-ray lasers than proved to be the case. The tests were more inconclusive than it suggested. Less credible. Not unless your orbital arsonist wants to first conduct a massive space weapons research & development program that only major governments can fund. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Aug 25, 2016 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, but the man is trying to set flammable materials on fire, not cause structural failure in a missile about to strike its target. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2016 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ Actually I had taken that into account. The problem is that the accounts of Project Excalibur indicate it wouldn't even be able to do that. There was no measurable ex-ray lasing in test systems. Also, x-rays are readily absorbed by the atmosphere. Now if x-ray lasers like Excalibur worked, starting fires be easy enough. Flammable materials can sleep easy tonght. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Aug 25, 2016 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ Since the wiki link was a throwaway for general interest would you care to share your sources? At the time I was last interested the DoD had not released the test results to the public, something about "national security" and "gotta fool those Ruskies". It would be especially interesting as last year SciAm said "(in the 1980s) X-ray laser beams initiated by nuclear explosives were generated underground at the Nevada Test Site (NTS)". Doesn't seem likely they'd say there were beams if the intensity couldn't be measured. link $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2016 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ My sources were books. Both by William J Broad, a science journalist for The New York Times and a Pulitzer prize winner. STAR WARRIORS: A penetrating Look into the Lives of the Young Scientists Bhind Our Space Age Weaponry (1985) and TELLER'S WAR: The Top-Secret Story Behind the Star Wars Deception (1992). Broad lists the 10 tests that involved nuclear pumped x-ray lasing in TW. Both books cover the rise & fall of the concept. if nuclear x-ray lasers could be made to work we're an extremely long way from doing so. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Aug 26, 2016 at 5:51

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