Hello Son of Star Wars - Goodbye Low Earth Orbit
July 29, 2003 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Air Force Space Command: Strategic Master Plan — FY04 and Beyond! (via Plastic , edited by Nick :)
posted by kliuless at 8:25 PM on July 29, 2003

Is there any way to make y2karl's rollover-texts stay around longer? I usually read about half of them and then they go away and I have to wait a second before they'll appear again.

Sorry if this is an off-topic and stupid question.
posted by interrobang at 8:57 PM on July 29, 2003

interrobang - enable the DHTML tags in your user profile.

I have often wondered about the effect of space-based weapons on the amount of crap flying around banging into things and it seems my wondering was pretty much on-track. Imagine what life would be like without satellites? Do most of us even have any idea how much we depend on them?
posted by dg at 9:00 PM on July 29, 2003

Thanks, dg.
posted by interrobang at 9:11 PM on July 29, 2003

Maybe this could be a way to make inter continental weapons less useful. If you filled the upper atmosphere with enough small fast moving chaotic debris a missile traveling through high orbit could be dinged into oblivion. A secondary benefit could be protection from earth cratering life extincting asteroids. It would make space exploration more difficult, trapping us here in low or zero orbit, but would create pressure to create new technology to get into space, like laser ray tubes to incinerate external objects until the payload got out of the danger zone.
posted by obedo at 9:17 PM on July 29, 2003

The Stimson link says "While space has long been utilized to assist military operations, it has not been weaponized."

Not true.

In 1973, the Soviets orbited Salyut 3, a purely military space station that had an automatic cannon on board. The cannon was test fired in orbit and worked just fine.

In 1986, the Soviets tried to orbit the unmanned Polyus battlestation, chock full of weapons and designed to carry nuclear mines. It broke up before it achieved orbit.

The Soviets developed and tested and fielded an ASAT system.

The Soviets tested and developed (and may have fielded) a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS).

That's just the stuff we know about - there had to have been much, much more.

And what about the US at that time? We know much less, ironically, but it was probably at least as much as the Russians.

Weapons in space bad? - most likely. New? - nope.
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:40 PM on July 29, 2003

"Once we fill space with debris, it's permanent," Primack warns. NASA says debris below 600 km will fall within several years, but objects in 1000-km orbits will survive for a century or more.
I do hate when writers misuse words for dramatic effect. So it's NOT permanent, just moderate-long term?
posted by HTuttle at 10:18 PM on July 29, 2003

obedo - intercontinental missiles don't actually reach low earth orbit, I don't believe. That territory is reserved for the satellites that fire the lasers that shoot down the missiles.
posted by jonson at 10:22 PM on July 29, 2003

Obedo, I lack the math to prove this (hint to those who did NOT go the liberal arts route to either back me or hack me) but my understanding of the energies involved is that orbital debris impacting an incoming dinosaur killer type rock would not do us on the ground much good. The sum - and lethal - release of energy is still going to hit. I seem to recall reading an article about this back when "Armegeddon" and "Deep Impact" were playing duelling dimwitted blockbusters a few summers ago. Also, I think it was discussed when Shoemaker-Levy split up and popped Jupiter a few times.

Unless the incoming rock is broken up so far in advance that the fragments MISS completely, it would still screw us real good.
posted by John Smallberries at 11:01 PM on July 29, 2003

Yes and no, John Smallberries. The more broken up it is, the more surface area is going to be in contact with the atmosphere, meaning more friction, and so more of the total energy will be turned into heat before it hits the ground. Small enough pieces and none hits the ground at all, though that's a best case scenario and likely not possible.
posted by Nothing at 11:33 PM on July 29, 2003

Weapons in space bad? - most likely. New? - nope.

After the ABM treaty was negotiated and signed, the Soviet Union, and later the Russian Federation honored the agreement and neither tested nor deployed any fractional orbital bombing systems or any other sort of strategic space weaponry thereafter. This is the same treaty which United States has just now abrogated.

ABM treaty? Good. Walking away from ABM Treaty? - New & very Bad. If to test is to endanger all satellites and manned flights in near Earth orbit - Stupid Bad. And all the weaponized space in the solar system, let alone near earth orbit, won't do much good if someone sets an antique Soviet backpack nuke on a container ship in San Francisco Harbor.
posted by y2karl at 11:48 PM on July 29, 2003

interrobang - Get Mozilla, never look back.
posted by will at 11:55 PM on July 29, 2003

yskarl: I'm with you on the foolishness of the abandonment of the ABM treaty but the USA has harboured ambitions of weaponising space for over 30 years now.

Broad describes here US plans for putting nuclear weapons in orbit. I find the idea of heavily contaminating the atmosphere with fallout a rather more frightening prospect than a cloud of debris. Misguided?
posted by dmt at 2:35 AM on July 30, 2003

I just finished reading a scifi book (won't name it in case any of you haven't read it and want to as this is the end of the book) where nuclear weapons were banned but it only specified earth. So the way the superpowers get around that is having them in orbit.

Communications in orbit is one thing to get hit by space debris, but weapons? Are they out of their minds??

I mentioned the twilight/bizzro world in another thread and I'm feeling the same here. I get the distinct impression that the life/world is out of control.
posted by evening at 6:52 AM on July 30, 2003

"After the ABM treaty was negotiated and signed, the Soviet Union, and later the Russian Federation honored the agreement and neither tested nor deployed any fractional orbital bombing systems or any other sort of strategic space weaponry thereafter."

No, not true.

ABM treaty signed in 1972, did not cover FOBS, ASAT, space cannons, other space weapons programs. It only covered defenses against ballistic missiles, not other 'weaponizations' of space. No treaty has ever banned ASAT weapons. So it's 'legal' to make weapons to destroy a purely peaceful civilian weather sat, but 'illegal' to have a weapon to destroy a nuclear missile, who's only purpose is to kill people. Ironic, no?

Soviet FOBS system not withdrawn until 1982, under terms of SALT II treaty.

Nuclear weapons in space banned in 1967 treaty (killing Project Orion once and for all), didn't stop Soviets trying to space-test weapons system designed to deploy nuclear mines (see Polyus linked above) and armed with other weapons duting the Gorby/Galsnost era of 1986.

Also, Soviet compliance with ABM treaty is highly doubtful ...
posted by Jos Bleau at 6:56 AM on July 30, 2003

Also, Soviet compliance with ABM treaty is highly doubtful ...

Remote viewing again, are we?

Or were these violations as massive as the United States's treaty violations according to Russian complaints?

According to Russian press accounts in late August 1998, however, Russia has accused the United States of violating START I. Moscow has reportedly raised a series of complaints regarding the number of warheads attributed to Trident II SLBMs, the U.S. unwillingness to allow complete inspections of Trident IIs to verify their actual loadings and the U.S. refusal to allow inspections of certain facilities at the Silverdale submarine base in Washington. Russia has also charged the United States with improperly destroying MX ICBMs under the treaty and with making repairs to B-1B bombers at operational bases rather than designated repair depots.

Such red herrings aside...

US Space Policy: Time to Stop and Think

What is missing so far, however, is a strong strategic rationale for breaking the long-standing international taboo against weaponising space. Indeed, US policymakers have yet to fully debate whether doing so is worth the long-term economic, political and military costs. Unfortunately, that debate may never be held. Instead, administration and military officials now seem to be working from the premise that space will become the new "high ground" of future battlefields.

...It is also clear that, despite the ongoing US policy review, little thought has yet gone into the complex national and global security affects of any US move to begin weaponising space. There has been no overarching US government study of the military, political and economic benefits versus costs of deploying space weapons for any purpose. Despite this lack of foresight, arms control options, which might be useful in ensuring that vulnerabilities in US assets do not transform into threats, seem to have been written off entirely by the Bush administration - despite the interest of nearly every other member state of the United Nations in pursuing talks on new measures to protect space for peaceful uses.

The general failure of the current administration to consider space weaponisation from a broad policy perspective, and the deliberate shunning of arms control options, are both serious mistakes. There are a multitude of reasons to believe that the advent of weapons in space might actually undermine not only US national security, but also global stability. Conversely, there is strong reason to believe that international arms control agreements could not only enhance international security but also protect the edge the United States now enjoys in space.

And, from those Commies at the CATO institute:

Should the United States "Weaponize" Space? Military and Commercial Implicatons

Advocates of a more aggressive U.S. military policy for space argue that the United States is more reliant on the use of space than is any other nation, that space systems are vulnerable to attack, and that U.S. space systems are thus an attractive candidate for a "space Pearl Harbor." But as important and potentially vulnerable as current U.S. space-based assets may be, deploying actual weapons (whether defensive or offensive) will likely be perceived by the rest of the world as more threatening than the status quo. Any move by the United States to introduce weapons into space will surely lead to the development and deployment of anti-satellite weapons by potentially hostile nations. As the dominant user of space for military and civilian functions, the United States would have the most to lose from such an arms race.
posted by y2karl at 9:54 AM on July 30, 2003


It's so much easier to respond to statements that I didn't make than it is to respond to ones that I actually did make, isn't it?

I never said that the US did a better job of honoring treaty commitments than anyone else.

In fact I suggested otherwise.

As for the Russian ABM systems permitted under the ABM treaty, both launchers and 'local' radar systems were mobile and therefore easily produced in much larger numbers than allowed for under treaty, and also easily hidden. Since we know that the Soviets violated just about every treaty they every signed, there's no reason to think they observed this one, given how easy it would have been to cheat. But since this is one of the few areas where the former Soviets have been less than forthcoming with their achievements, I used the qualifier 'doubtful' ... also making no statement that the US had been any better.

y2karl, you tend to be wrong on your factual statements - probably better to stick with long web citations, imaginary quotes attributed to others, and personal invective.
posted by Jos Bleau at 12:51 PM on July 30, 2003

John Smallberries, Nothing -- It seems to me that the danger from tons of gravel flying around would pretty much be to man-made objects that can't function with a bunch of holes in them. Large rocks would be pretty much unaffected and free to destroy civilization as we know it.
posted by Tlogmer at 5:11 PM on July 30, 2003

So, jos bleau, is there any evidence the Russians are currently contemplating introducing weapons in space? Apparently not.

Is the US currently considering introducing weapons into space? Apparently so.

Apparently it is the general consensus this is not a good idea.

And your point was what? That the United States introducing weapon systems into space is no big deal because the Soviet Union once had some similar programs which they later scrapped? Or is it that they possibly maybe could have had some similar program sometime whenever? Is this the current likea steel trap--as drawn by an Asperger's syndrome patient--logic of the 82nd Couchborne?

Apart from this extraneous crap of what the Soviets maybe did once that the Russians aren't doing now anyway--if you think it's a good idea that the US militarizes space, then come right out and say so. Or if you think it's no big deal, then just tell us so and tell us why.

Hmm, I don't recall America's withdrawal from the Outer Space Treaty as having occurred. Yet.

But you never know: Reconsidering The Rules For Space

Of the major space-faring countries, China has said most explicitly that U.S. pursuit of SPACECOM's vision would be intolerably threatening and would require a countervailing response. Even a limited national missile defense could neutralize China's minimal nuclear deterrent. U.S. use of space for highly intrusive surveillance and force-enhancement, let alone force application or coercive diplomacy short of war, would have serious implications for the Taiwan situation. Chinese officials have clearly indicated that their preferred response to an aggressively imposing U.S. military program is not to enter a classic arms race, but to put pressure on points of weakness, such as vulnerable space assets. China's delegate to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has bluntly pointed out that the existing legal rules regarding the military use of space are partial and fragile. Military support activities and related commercial services are protected from interference under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty under the supposition that their purposes are fundamentally peaceful. U.S. pursuit of the SPACECOM vision would not be peaceful, in China's view, and would therefore remove the legal protection currently accorded to space assets. In other words, China is warning that U.S. attempts to weaponize space would jeopardize commercial and military support activities. The result would not be U.S. space dominance, but a chaotic situation that left everybody less secure.

Here's an interesting fact--there is currently no early warning radar system capable of dealing with sea launched cruise missiles. Now maybe you could come up with some beside the point factoid on how the Soviet Union tested cruise missiles in the 70s.

One thing remains certain: no untested billion dollar antiballistic missile system in Alaska is going to be worth jack shit against a cruise missile launched from a submarine in the Gulf of Mexico, let alone a warhead just sitting there in a container on an America bound freighter.
posted by y2karl at 6:59 PM on July 30, 2003

My original post was about the veracity of the Stimson link - anyone who can open a report with the quote they did looses a lot of credibility in my book, seeing as space has been weaponized on & off for over 35 years.

I don't care very much at all about new space weapons programs. I presume we've got lots of 'secret' space weapons in storage just waiting for targets. Consider the ASAT program - we took the trouble to make a very cheap, very effective weapon and then cancelled it after we proved it worked even better than expected? Not likely - we probably made lots of them and are keeping them hidden somewhere 'just in case'.

I think there's been a big over-reaction to what's actually occurred. I haven't seen much more than the usual military-industrial-thinktank paradigm - let's analyze potential threats, come up with lucrative ways to counter them and issue the reports & hopes that some one will fund something. Usually not much happens, but somtimes you get 'lucky'.

Sure, there'll be a few big ticket items like the upcoming Alaska fiasco, but those will be debated and voted upon publicly. I think that will really come down to whether the contractors have done a good job of spreading around the work so that enough congressional districts get some of the $$$. If they have, we'll most likely build the system. Doesn't matter if it works or not, doesn't matter who's president or who's running congress. That's how weapons systems get built.

The really dangerous sort of weapons (as in destabilizing) won't be appearing in the public policy debates - like ASAT, they'll just be produced, stored, and someday used, in the deep black.

So I really don't think you have to worry about any of the things you've heard about in the in the links above - it's the stuff you haven't heard about that will be truly dangerous.
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:03 PM on July 30, 2003

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