The US Department of Defense has plans of testing a directed energy weapon in space. It has been named neutral particle beam, and the U.S. DoD hopes that it will be able to take out ballistic missiles moments after launch using this weapon. The neutral particle beam will be boosted into space and tested from orbit in 2023.
Neutral particle beams are not as famous as lasers but are quite a technology in themselves. They work by accelerating particles that don’t have an electric charge – neutrons – up to the speed of light and then direct them at any given target. The neutrons take out protons out of the nuclei of other particles that they encounter and this causes the formation of heat on the target object.
You can think of a neutral particle beam as heat rays from the many science fictions that you have read or seen. Lasers burn the surface of the target and can be deflected by making the surface highly-polished and making it mirror-like. However, the neutral particle beam works by damaging the interior; thus no measures can be taken against it. A strong enough neutral particle beam can burn a target, cause the ignition of the fuel, melt the target thus damaging its aerodynamic stability, or even take out the onboard electronics.
Such a weapon will need an accelerator for the sake of producing subatomic or atomic particles that constitute the beam. The accelerator must be capable of producing a massive amount of particles in a very short span of time. Furthermore, it must release them in the form of a focused beam. The weaponized neutral particle beam will also require a power supply, power storage system, staging system that will be used for feeding energy to the accelerator. Last but not least, it will need an aiming system to identify targets.
Does this sound oddly familiar? If it does, it is because the US did launch a neutral particle beam accelerator back in 1989 as part of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). The Pentagon wants to carry out testing of a neutral particle beam weapon in 2023. The weapon will operate from orbit and is meant for taking out ballistic missiles while they are in the boost phase.
Whether the tests will be successful or not, remains to be seen. The weapon is very complex and must undergo extensive testing before it comes online. There are a number of technical issues as well that were the downfall of the Star Wars initiative. Will the Pentagon be able to overcome them this time around? Time will tell!