Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Space, the Final Frontier

US Finally Claims Outer Space: Tammy Bruce notices that America now regards space, not as some kind of parkland, but as an extension of the earth. The Washington Post reports: “President Bush has signed a new National Space Policy that rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit U.S. flexibility in space and asserts a right to deny access to space to anyone ‘hostile to U.S. interests.’ ‘Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power,’ the policy asserts in its introduction.”


This was, if you pardon the overused expression, inevitable. At discussion I had recently, someone argued that the Reality Principle, which is another name for the pressure of necessity, had a logic of its own. People could argue about what they ought to do; but in the end they did what they had to do. The quaint way of saying this was that "man proposes and God disposes". The modern equivalent is probably "get with the program".


Blogger Woman Catholic said...

Bush can dream on, but Presidents can't unilaterally make policies which are binding on future presidents. Even international treaties can be reversed by statute.

10/18/2006 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Prior to his appointment as SECDEF, Don Rumsfeld headed a study which made a number of recommendations, one of which was to change policies to enable weapons to be put in space.

The head of SDI (the first one, not the present guy, who is an old friend of mine) pointed out back in 1988 that the only reason he was not demonstrating the ability to shoot down aicraft from orbit was that he thought it was politically too hot to do. There was shocked silence in the room full of AF pilots when he said that.

Some argue that weapons should be kept out of space. Unfortunately, when the first V-2 headed for London it was too late for that.

10/18/2006 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger Questhe said...

First there was the Army. Then, when men built ships that could wage war, the Navy. When aircraft became a significant military weapon, we had the air force.
Now what - the space force? Of course SF writers have predicted this for a while. But here is perhaps a first real step.

10/18/2006 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger snowonpine said...

It's about time that this happened. Time to stop kidding ourselves that the oversweet song "Its a small world after all" really represents how things are. Living in such a dreamland, where the UN is an effective and even-handed guarantor of rights and international law and treaties are truly effective regarding space or anywhere else for that matter, makes it much easier for any enemy to develop the ability attack us from space.

While my attitude may be easily mocked as Strangelovian, you can see where the internationalist, multi-lateral vs. U.S. national interests approach has gotten us on a wide range of issues, Iran and North Korea to mention just two.

10/18/2006 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

In case you don't know it the stinking Chineese Communists "painted" one of our satellites with a laser beam the other day. That's probably the immediate reason Bush II has acted just now. Go Bush. Gentlebush!

Let's come up with some great nicknames for Dubya that don't sound so Eastern European.

10/18/2006 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

I think you're right about this being a logical first step in the direction of a Space Force. More importantly it's a first step in the direction of Space colonies as well:
In part because military bases on the Moon are going to be a necessary step in keeping our assets secure (The principle that "high ground wins" doesn't stop at GEO and like it or not it is the Moon that's at the top of the gravity well), and in part because the UN treaties currently in place have been a legal and political obstacle to such colonization no matter what happy talk may have been made on the matter. Let's hope the second step is taken as well. ^_~

You say that, but the fact of the matter is that what one President does is what gives and limits the options of his predecessors. The Monroe Doctrine played a role in the Cuban Missile Crisis 150+ years after its articulation. That's why it's legitimate for Democrats to still talk about Reagan and for Republicans to still talk about Carter. Only a President as weak as Clinton was is incapable of having an influence on American history beyond the time of his administration (As shown by the fact that his own followers deny that his actions could ever have had any possible influence upon current events a mere 6 years after he stopped being President). :P

Too true! Stalin once asked "How many brigades does the Pope command?" About the secular vatican know as the UN I would ask, "How many spaceships has the UN ever launched?". ^O^

My own suspicion is that the only way to keep weapons out of space would be to keep people out of space. And given the number of things that can go wrong with keeping the human race on just one planet I think that a very bad idea.

sparks fly,
Robert Heinlein said it best, "Whether or not there is intelligent life in Washington, D.C., there is certainly intelligent life in Moscow, Peking and Tokyo." The reason to start our next big push into space is that we can't coast on the fact that we still have a big lead *forever*! ^_^;

10/18/2006 09:45:00 PM  
Blogger Eggplant said...

RWE said:

"The head of SDI (the first one, not the present guy, who is an old friend of mine) pointed out back in 1988 that the only reason he was not demonstrating the ability to shoot down aicraft from orbit was that he thought it was politically too hot to do. There was shocked silence in the room full of AF pilots when he said that."

How would one do this? A single space weapon would have to be in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) with a limited view of the Earth's surface (geosynchronous is too far away). It would be too expensive from a delta-V stand point for the vehicle to significantly change orbital inclination. Therefore the space weapons would have to be organized in a constellation like the Iridium communications satellites. Presumably the space weapon would use some sort of laser. The fictitious Ed Teller / Lowell Wood's space lasers for SDI were nuclear pumped. Assuming one could come up with a nuclear pumped laser that actually worked, the EMP issues of such a weapon would make it impractical for merely zapping fighter planes. So let us assume the laser is chemically pumped, e.g a COIL laser like they have on the ABL YAL-1A. A COIL has only a limited number of shots before it needs to be refuelled (a bit like a flame thrower). No big deal for the YAL-1A because it can land and get refuelled. However if the COIL is in LEO then getting refuelled isn't an option (particularly if the weapons are in many different orbital planes). Finally there is the issue of cost. How many kilograms of fuel would the laser need to zap a fighter plane? Multiply that number by $10,000 and that's the cost to get the fuel into LEO. If one shot requires a metric ton of fuel then the target had better be worth more than $10 million (an old MIG-17 can go for as low as $17 thousand, an A-10 Warthog goes for about $8.8 million while a used F-16 costs about $12 million).

I suspect this sort of weapon is not practical (too many devils in the detail).

10/18/2006 10:18:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

I don't recall rwe quoting the gentleman as saying that he would limit himself to merely a single weapon while shooting down those airplanes. As for question of how much the enemy weapon would be worth,...*I* think that not having a nuclear weapon go off on American soil would be worth a lot more than $10 million. But maybe that's just me. ^_^

10/18/2006 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger metaphysician said...


A few thoughts:

1. Perhaps some kind of microwave or similar weapon, soft kill by electronics failure? While US aircraft are EMP hardened, I'm not sure how well aircraft elsewhere are. . .

2. Guided "pebbles" perhaps, dropped from orbit on an intercept trajectory with terminal guidance? Doesn't have to be very big to get a kill, as long as it can hit directly.

10/19/2006 05:41:00 AM  
Blogger Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Honestly, folks, this is nothing new. Back ten or fifteen years ago, under Clinton, when my oldest boy was maintaining 15s and 16s for the USAF its official mission statement was "To defend the United States through control of the world's aero-space." ... or close to that, as I'm going from memory.

Last December the USAF adopted a new mission statement, building on the old one: The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests -- to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace.

President Bush made it clear back in '01 and '02 that our current struggle will last through many administrations, some Republican, some Democrat. He has vigorously and consistently been putting in place the tools they will need. For that he will be seen as a visionary ... along about the time Iraq is seen as a 'preliminary.'

10/19/2006 05:46:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Teresita: "Presidents can't unilaterally make policies which are binding on future presidents..."
Hold a seance and tell that to James Monroe.

Eggplant: Once you have solved the problem of how to destroy missiles from space, then dealing with things going much much slower is solved too - at least at 50K ft and above.

As to a "Space Force": having been a member for many years of the nearest thing we have to one, (or used to, anyway) you need to realize a key difference. Space has never been a MISSION. It has always been a PLACE which you utilize to do other missions. Like the Navy occassionaly flys things in order to do its mission at Sea - and the Sea is not only a Place for them but a Mission as well.

Now, does this new policy mean that Space is a Mission? A place to "own" the way we own the air anywhere we care to? We will see.

Unfortunately, the guys who now own the Air right now are genetically incapable of owning Space.

10/19/2006 06:20:00 AM  
Blogger Eggplant said...

Metaphysician said...

>1. Perhaps some kind of microwave or
>similar weapon, soft kill by electronics
>failure? While US aircraft are EMP
>hardened, I'm not sure how well aircraft
>elsewhere are. . .

A faraday shield should protect against a microwave attack.

>2. Guided "pebbles" perhaps, dropped
>from orbit on an intercept trajectory
>with terminal guidance? Doesn't have
>to be very big to get a kill, as long
>as it can hit directly.

Killing a traget that's outside the atmosphere is hard enough (that's what billiant pebbles was supposed to do). However killing an aircraft from space through use of a kinetic energy weapon means atmospheric entry with an ion sheath in the vehicle's shock layer (initially no communications or radar). Terminal guidance would be at hypersonic speed. That means thermal protection systems, body flaps, APUs, IMUs, terminal guidance radar, etc. You'll end up with a $100 million dollar vehicle used to kill $10 million dollar vehicles. These space weapons make sense if you're taking out an ICBM RV flying towards a population center -and- there's not so many RVs that the ABM system isn't saturated. However space weapons are no-starters for destroying conventional aircraft.

RWE said:

"Once you have solved the problem of how to destroy missiles from space, then dealing with things going much much slower is solved too - at least at 50K ft and above."

That's sort of like arguing a good anti-tank weapon can be used to kill individual infantrymen. Certainly a true statement but it doesn't make much practical sense.

10/19/2006 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger El_Heffe said...

I have always thought that the notion of keeping weapons out of space should have been discarded at the end of the cold war (if not sooner).

Google for "brilliant pebbles" and just imagine what kind of strategic landscape we would be living in today vis a vis N Korea and Iran if that system were operational right now. By the way, if it could have taken out scuds in Gulf I then couldn't it probably threaten fixed wing aircraft also unless they were deliberately maintaining a low altitude. Then again wouldn't low altitude make them more vulnerable from the ground. Of course a scud's Balistic path precludes evasive manuvers which would be open to fixed wing craft assuming that they could detect the incomming threat.

But still the ability to prematurely end medium/long range balistic missile testing (let alone hostile launches) would obviously be huge today. Damn 20-20 hindsight.

RE: A Space Force
The trend toward armed UAV's means the "space force" will probably never leave the surface. Which would be expensive, difficult and dangerous anyway.

10/19/2006 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger El_Heffe said...

What Eggplant says RE killing aircraft with kinetic weapons from space makes sense (not that somebody wont think of a way to do it eventually though, kineticly or otherwise)... at any rate, please disregard that portion of my prior comment.


10/19/2006 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Wm_Edwin said...


"Bush can dream on, but Presidents can't unilaterally make policies which are binding on future presidents."

I have to disagree. A future President might well cut the budget of a future space force; he wouldn't dream of *abolishing* it.

IMHO we tend to think of space as a kind of inconsequential playground, which we choose to gambol in whenever we feel like not spending money on bread for the poor. :'>

But tens of thousands of kinetic-kill projectiles in orbit is anything but inconsequential. Any power that is serious about putting teeth in orbit will open up a new strategic dimension - no turning back at that point.

Now, you may have a point if you mean that a succeeding administration will be in a position to kill the program in the cradle.

But any administration would have to think of the "Pearl Harbor" contingency. "Why wasn't Star Wars up?" cried the surviving populace of Los Angeles...

In fact, the manned space program (which is what we're talking about here, you can't build laser battle stations telerobotically... another interesting implication of this policy) has until recently been the "play-thing" of an alliance of convenience between various NASA administrations, Congress, and Big Aerospace.

This can't last, if we want to actually do something in orbit.

Fortunately, the strain President Bush has put NASA under with his "Vision for Space Exploration" has forced it - under the doughty Mike Griffin - to begin treating the commercial world as a contractor for space *operations* as well as for design.

eggplant, this is why I take the prospect of space munitions very seriously, because NASA has run manned space access as a monopoly. In consequence, we seem to think that $10,000 per kilo to LEO is somehow part of the way of things.

But running contests to spark successful technologies - such as what NASA is finally doing (Source 1) - has a distinguished history of cost-effective, technological success, such as the locomotive. (Source 2)

(The winner of that 1829 locomotive contest, incidentally, was named the "Rocket." Hopeful omen for we who appreciate what space energy and resources could mean for the Earth!)

Source 1:
Lunar Lander Centennial Challenge:


Six Centennial Challenges:

Source 2:

10/19/2006 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger John Samford said...

EMP alone is serious enough to make the control of space critical.
Please note that EMP is a PAULSE, formed of particles and as such, like a Laser it sidesteps the Law of Propagation. There is literaly no limit on the range of an EMP. Sunspots produce EMP's. So do Novas. A supernova thousands of light years away could still destroy a lot of electronics.
Gamma radiation just keeps on going, like the energizer bunny, until it interacts with a photon and creates voltage. Since it is a particle and not a wave front, Propagation isn't an issue. Same for Lasers. A Laser loses energy by dispersion, NOT propagation. It is a function of Pi, not the square of the distance.
As far as bomb pumped Lasers, the test done back in the 80's was sucessful. Research was discontinued because the Demonrats figured it was a waste of money.
Here, read about it;

IIRC, the code word for the test series was tabletop.

In air to air combat, there are 2 critical factors. Altitude and Observability. It's hard to get more altitude then LEO and still be earth centric. As far as targeting an aircraft from geo-stationary orbit, that would require some sort of directed energy location device. I think Infared would be the way to go, since any aircraft flying in the atmosphere is much hotter then the surrounding environment and will be broadcasting in the infared band.
I know with Stealth aircraft, it's harder to control the infared then the radar signature. To a light speed weapon, range is limited by targeting ability. That can be countered somewhat by 'steering' the beam like in a CRT. A rastor scan pattern can cover quite an area. Since colimated energy weapons (Lasers in laymans terms)drop energy thru interacting with what ever they strike, as long as there is nothing between them and the 'target' they will drop energy into that target until it is destroyed or the beam front goes off target.
I think Star wars ( the movies) screwed up everybody's thinking about lasers. There is NO 'bolt' of energy, no more then your flashlight puts out a 'bolt' of light.
To the Laser, the atmosphere is just another target. It drops energy into the atmsphere, until that atmosphere 'burns' up. Laser in the 1.5MW range produces a temperature of about 75,000 F. So what it touches heats up to that temperature. On a time scale that humans can preceive, anything that heats up that hot that fast seems to explode.
No an aircraft caught in a rastor scan pattern from a laser in Geo-Orbit will have a small slice burned in it's skin. Aerodynamic pressure will do the rest.
So the key to surviving in a aircraft in the later stages of the 21st century will be flying low and slow in a stealth aircraft. The lower in the atmosphere, the more energy is dropped by the Laser on it's way to the aircraft. The slower the aircraft flies, the less atmospheric pressure. The lower the observability, the less chance of being tracked by the Laser Satt in the first place.
Fly boys have had it easy for a long time. Plus by 2020, pilots will be about as important to the military as swords are today.
IIRC, tommorrow is 'Taffy 3 ' day.
The Taffy 3's of the 21st century will be made of Silicon and Germanium, not flesh and blood.

10/19/2006 05:03:00 PM  

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