One of the staples of the sci-fi genre for more than a century is the ray gun. H.G. Wells pioneered the concept in War of the Worlds, in which Martian invaders use a powerful, invisible Heat-Ray to decimate the Earth. Ray guns, disintegrators, radio guns, lasers, phasers, and plasma weaponry followed thereafter, all described with varying degrees of accuracy and real-world limitations. In reality, our space-based weapon technologies have lagged far behind these futuristic concepts — but that doesn’t mean the topic hasn’t come up. Both the Soviet and US governments explored the idea of space warfare.
Popular Mechanics has a new report on the Soviet Kartech R-23M, the only gun to ever be fired from space. The R-23M was derived from the R-23, a 23mm gas-operated autocannon that could fire up to 2,600 rounds per minute and is the fastest single-barrel cannon ever introduced in service. According to PM, the space-based variant used smaller, 14.5mm shells, but could fire up to 5,000 rounds per minute (the cited range is between 950 – 5000 rpm).
It’s generally understood that the Space Race between the US and the USSR was effectively a proxy battlefield of the Cold War, but the particulars of how these scenarios played out have faded from the public’s consciousness in the last 50 years. As the launch capability and technology of both nations raced ahead, it became obvious that satellites could do far more than circle the Earth transmitting a simple radio signal. The first successful spy satellite mission was Discoverer 14, launched August 18, 1960. Back then, the film the satellite carried was ejected from the satellite and retrieved by planes as it descended via parachute.