An undated illustration of a space-based particle beam weapon concept credited to Los Alamos National Lab. Source: Aerospace Projects Review

US Defense Department researchers are dusting off an idea from old Sci-Fi novels: space-based ray guns that can blast enemy satellites and other targets in space.

Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s defense undersecretary for research and engineering, has told military website Defense One that the US may resurrect work on so-called neutral particle beams – a space-based weapon that was mulled in the 1990s.

“Directed energy is more than just big lasers,” Defense One quoted Griffin as saying. “That’s important. High-powered microwave approaches can effect an electronics kill. The same with the neutral particle beam systems we explored briefly in the 1990s” for use in space-based anti-missile systems.”

Griffin believes such weapons can be “useful in a variety of environments” and have the “advantage of being non-attributable.” By this, he means that it can be tough to blame an attack with a particle weapon on any particular culprit since it leaves no evidence behind of who or even what did the damage.

Military intelligence website says neutral particle beams have several properties that make them attractive for space based applications. For one thing, they travel in straight lines unaffected by the earth’s magnetic field. They also have a very short flight time to targets even at extended ranges and can penetrate deeply into a target vehicle, thus making shielding relatively ineffective.

“In the case of a nuclear warhead, these particles are capable of heating the nuclear material by fission processes, neutron generation and ionization,” said.

Griffin, however, ducked questions about whether neutral particle beams are being eyed as a possible defense against North Korean or Russian missiles.

Some old neutral particle beam weapon concept drawings (from Aerospace Projects Review):

The Martin-Marietta NPB concept.
The Ge/Lockheed NPB concept.
The TRW concept.