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Tilting at Windmills

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February 15, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

SATELLITE, SATELLITE, BURNING BRIGHT....So what's the deal on that spy satellite we're shooting down? Noah Shachtman talked today to a "veteran space security specialist" who said he was pretty skeptical of the official story playing up the danger from the satellite's hydrazine fuel tank. Rather, his guess is that we've been itching to do this ever since the Chinese shot down a satellite of their own last year, and this is just a convenient excuse:

My real concern is that this is simply a knee-jerk reaction made by the Administration in response to the purported threat by the Chinese. Since the April 2007 ASAT [anti-satellite] test, there have been rumors and whispers going around that the Administration and like-minded individuals are looking for more sticks (instead of carrots) to use against China. While this "shoot down" is not a direct action against China, it would be a clear signal that the US can possess an active ASAT capability at any time if it so desires. That is a serious development as the previous US ASAT system using F-15s was mothballed in the 1980's.

There are many significant political ramifications that would happen as a result of this. The US has been berating the Chinese on their ASAT test but now demonstrate that it is okay as long as it occurs at a low enough altitude to prevent long-lasting debris and can "save lives". This is close to an implied "ok" for the US and other nations to conduct more ASAT tests, which could open another arms race.

There's more at the link. It's all very mysterious.

Kevin Drum 6:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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Comments

This needs more astrophysicists pointing out there's already enough debris in earth orbit.

Posted by: anonymous on February 15, 2008 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

Heh! They are afraid bits of it will be up for auction on E-bay!

Posted by: jay boilswater on February 15, 2008 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

I assume everyone's already seen at rawstory the link to the story about George W. Bush's familial slaveholding past. But anyway the direct link is here:

http://www.theroot.com/id/44844

Posted by: anon on February 15, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

We used to use nuclear reactors in spy satellites. We don't anymore?

Posted by: IntelVet on February 15, 2008 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

The interesting bit is the part about reprogramming for the higher speed of the satellite (7-8 km/s) compared to that of a missile (a mere 3-4 km/s). There's no lack of kinetic energy, that's for sure.

Posted by: dr2chase on February 15, 2008 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

We used to use nuclear reactors in spy satellites. We don't anymore?
Posted by: IntelVet

Don't need them. Solar arrays and batteries get it done.

I figured keeping classified sensors from being exploited was the prime reason, but there's a confluence of reasons to do the experiment.

Posted by: sjrsm on February 15, 2008 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

What if we shoot and miss?

Posted by: jm on February 15, 2008 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

They could limit the damage of space debris by waiting for the target to drop below an altitude that is useful for satellites before shooting at it. There would be enough (extremely thin) atmosphere at that point to cause all the space junk to fall.

But as others have said, the hydrazine excuse seems bogus. I think that the motivation is either the desire to do an ASAT test, or the desire to keep spy satellite equipment out of hostile hands.

Posted by: Joe Buck on February 15, 2008 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

The immediate red flag for me was the suggestion that Bush gives a rat's ass about human life.

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on February 15, 2008 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

"It's all very mysterious."

No it's not.
It's blatantly obvious what is occuring, and that this satellite excuse is excellent opportunity to validate an ABM.
The satellite re-entering orbit will be similar to the telemetry of a reentry vehicle off a MIRV...it's a validation run...thats all it is.
If they can hit it, they'll have lots of info off from the hit...if they miss...back to the drawing board.

btw: I'm not endorsing this test, nor am I condemning it...I'm rather neutral to the whole thing.

Posted by: sheerahkahn on February 15, 2008 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

It's all very mysterious.

Ooh, the mystery.

What was J. Edgar hiding under his pants again? Bearer bonds?

Occham's Razor rears its head all over the place.

Posted by: Swan on February 15, 2008 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

What if we shoot and miss?
What goes up must come down, unless it's going fast enough to just go away.

Maybe George and Dick are just bored and want something to blow up.

Posted by: AJ on February 15, 2008 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a guess: Has it anything to do with Jaws and Odd-job?

Posted by: Swan on February 15, 2008 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

Wouldn't it be highly entertaining if the Chinese beat us to it and shoot it down first?

Posted by: Mike H. on February 15, 2008 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK
Don't need them. Solar arrays and batteries get it done.

I agree that there's a confluence of reasons.

I was musing, after the above comment.
There might be a nuclear power source if they had something that needed a lot of burst energy, an x-ray laser, for instance.
But, so far as I know, we haven't come up with anything to produce the power that would require to be useful, that wouldn't be awfully messy to clean up when it fell out of orbit. Even more so if you smashed it into little pieces.

Do we know the cause of the initial failure? To deploy properly upon launch, I mean?

Posted by: kenga on February 15, 2008 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure somewhere MI-6 has their best men out trying to destroy a giant diamond used to power a death ray somewhere so that this plan to shoot down our satellite can go forward.

Posted by: Swan on February 15, 2008 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK
What if we shoot and miss? What goes up must come down, unless it's going fast enough to just go away.

What happens to what?
You mean the satellite? The missile?

I believe there are more ships being prepared to fire additional missiles, if needed.

The missile? Well, we had best hope that they take really good notes on its exact path heading out of orbit, if it doesn't come back down.

Otherwise, that first manned mission to Mars might hit the lottery a couple dozen times in a row, and have an unfortunate meeting with it.

Posted by: kenga on February 15, 2008 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

The explanation Kevin excerpts sounds good, even if it strikes us and like-minded folks as an annoying and unnecessary stunt.

Posted by: Pedant on February 15, 2008 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

If you humans just keep shooting your crap into space, we'll come down there and bomb you back a few million years. You'll be crawling around on all fours again.

We've done it before.

Posted by: Extraterrestrial Troll on February 15, 2008 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the bus-sized spacecraft was carrying a salvo of "Rods from God"?
http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/700oklkt.asp

"HOW DO THE RODS WORK? The system would likely be comprised of tandem satellites, one serving as a communications platform, the other carrying an indeterminate number of tungsten rods, each up to 20 feet in length and 1 foot in diameter. These rods, which could be dropped on a
target with as little as 15 minutes notice, would enter the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 36,000 feet per second--about as fast as a meteor. Upon impact, the rod would be capable of producing all the effects of an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon, without any of the radioactive fallout. This type of weapon relies on kinetic energy, rather than high-explosives, to generate destructive force (as do smart spears, another weapon system which would rely on tungsten rods, though not space-based)."

Perhaps they really have to knock this thing out because if it re-enters the atmosphere the rods get launched any old fucking place! Might send one into downtown Manhattan, who knows...?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on February 15, 2008 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

Tbrosz needed more work...

"...you cannot save your face and your ass at the same time..." - vachon@shadrach.net

Posted by: daCascadian on February 15, 2008 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

Why is the Bush administration so keen on shooting and blowing up and killing things?

Everything they do is all about how to hurt people.

Posted by: hancock on February 15, 2008 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

If GWB pisses off the Chinese enough, maybe they'll foreclose on his little war that they have been funding, and auction it off to the Russians...

Posted by: Disputo on February 15, 2008 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

Shit! I thought the only thing that held an indeterminate number of tungsten rods was my new razor.

Posted by: absent observer on February 15, 2008 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

I've figured it out.

The missiles will miss the satellite on purpose - and will 'just happen' to land on Iraqi nuclear sites.

Condi already has her quote ready to go - 'No one could have imagined...'

Hmph. Sorry, Iraq. They just happened to come down on your nuclear sites. Damn the luck...

Posted by: Stranger on February 15, 2008 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

This the militarization of space, it's an awful idea, no good can come of it, and that's all ye need to know.

Posted by: lampwick on February 15, 2008 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

It's all very mysterious

What? The Chinese did it. We've got to show we can too. Otherwise the Chinese will be ahead in the Space Shoot 'em Up Race. And what happens to America then, eh? As a second rate Space power we'll probably be forced to buy lots of cheap and unsafe toys at Walmart that were made in China... Oh, wait...

Posted by: tomeck on February 15, 2008 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

Crap. Should have read:

I've figured it out.

The missiles will miss the satellite on purpose - and will 'just happen' to land on Iranian nuclear sites.

Condi already has her quote ready to go - 'No one could have imagined...'

Hmph. Sorry, Iran. They just happened to come down on your nuclear sites. Damn the luck...

I hate it when I screw up my own jokes...

Posted by: Stranger on February 15, 2008 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

"If GWB pisses off the Chinese enough, maybe they'll foreclose on his little war that they have been funding, and auction it off to the Russians..."

Yes, they can't wait to get back to Afghanistan.

Posted by: Kenji on February 15, 2008 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

It's not the hydrazine we don't want falling to earth, it's the spy-stuff on the satellite. The hydrazine is a red herring.

And blowing up the satellite shouldn't be a hard thing - we don't have to hit it like a falling ballistic missile. It's in orbit. We shoot a bomb up there and rendezvous with the satellite (its orbit should be stable enough to do this) and blow the bomb.

It's not rocket science. Oh, wait.

Posted by: Ralph Kramden on February 15, 2008 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

Kenji -

China was in Afghanistan? No nukes on spy satellites? Will wonders never cease.

and, I don't know Will Wonders.

Posted by: IntelVet on February 15, 2008 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

This can be nothing more than a blatant exercise in showing the Chinese that we can do what they did in the past. The danger lies in failure-not physical danger since there is no demonstrable threat from the satellite, but the danger lies in world perception of our capability if we fail to destroy the satellite.

Mike Huckabee and Chuck Norris should just pray its destruction! Much less expensive.

Posted by: tommy harper on February 15, 2008 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

It's a testament to how often the Bushies make exactly the wrong decision in nearly everything. They can't do something as seemingly prosaic as blow up some space junk without everyone immediately assuming there's a darker reason for it.

And there probably is, but for a much longer time than they deserved, they were given the benefit of the--not doubt, but "They can't be that stupid, so some propellerhead must think it's a good idea." It's nice to see the worm turning back to a semblance of, if not sanity, at least caution towards these psychos.

Posted by: JB on February 15, 2008 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Satellite, Satellite, Burning Bright How about landing on Bushs head tonight????

Posted by: Al on February 15, 2008 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

It's all about the militarization of outer space, which neocons have had a hard-on about for years, and war profiteering.

Look, the Bush family has a long history of war profiteering. And Bush sees China as the next big war profiteering opportunity since the Middle East is proving to be a little too dicey. These are sick, demented, blood-lusting perverts we are talking about here...

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 15, 2008 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

Hard to trust, hard to verify.
This administration repeatedly pushes false information and manipulates facts.
The Culture of Corruption personified.
Their offenses impeachable.
Still strategizing the news, spinning and stonewalling, I would say.

Bush League Disaster Response Team--what a joke

Posted by: consider wisely always on February 15, 2008 at 10:24 PM | PERMALINK

What? The Chinese did it. We've got to show we can too. Otherwise the Chinese will be ahead in the Space Shoot 'em Up Race.

I think we still hold the lead we set in that particular race back in 1962.

Posted by: Disputo on February 15, 2008 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

sjrsm: I figured keeping classified sensors from being exploited was the prime reason

The atmosphere will do that. Do you seriously think they design a spy satellite and don't consider the possibility of it falling down? It's pretty easy to ensure the classified part burns up. In fact it would be hard to do otherwise.

Hydrazine tank? Yeah, right.

They want to play Star Wars.

Posted by: alex on February 15, 2008 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

Doc:

God has a rod? Damn, I guess he is male after all!

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 15, 2008 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

If I'm not mistaken, satellites aren't designed to survive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere in huge, deadly chunks. That's not their missions. It's a manned space-capsule's mission to survive re-entry, because it has a crew aboard. That's what it's designed to do, and that's why it can do it. For any other large piece of solid matter, re-entry into earth's atmosphere is very hazardous, and even cosmic objects consisting of a lot of heavy elements like iron typically lose a lot of mass on the way in. This is why they are typically referred to as "burning up" and appear as so-called "shooting stars" when they enter our atmosphere. There's actually no such thing as a non-hot, non-burning or deteriorating hunk of rock falling from space into our atmosphere.

So correct me if I'm wrong, but it's really implausible, isn't it, that this satellite is going to get to the ground as anything other than very tiny pieces, even without a missile shot (and for that matter, the missle that is going to be used-- as the government concedes-- doesn't even burn things up, it busts them by smashing into them, so it's unlikely it's going to destroy this satellite much smaller than the re-entry itself is anyway.

The satellite is going to have to be pretty damn big to survive re-entry in anything larger than chunks that are likely to be useless for reverse engineering unless we've made some super-incredible and secret breakthrough in the field of composition of materials (smaller-sized objects- random chunks of a broken machine or whatever- are less likely to be something that's interesting at the machine-level of technology, so that tends to make it have to be a much more impressive breakthrough (which in turn is less likely to have occurred and been kept confidential within the government) than a machine or electronics type breakthrough would be). The theory about Bush being concerned about our espionage techniques being comporomised assumes the satellite does contain technology everyone doesn't know about already, of course.

Posted by: Swan on February 15, 2008 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

Swan, you're correct, as far as I can tell. I'm old enough to remember when Skylab fell, for doorknob's sake, and while there was legitimate concern over that, there was no paranoia, or, I should say, ginned up pseudo-paranoia.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 15, 2008 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

Gadfly, I knew a couple of people who went to Australia in the hopes of watching it come blazing down.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 15, 2008 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

The interesting bit is the part about reprogramming for the higher speed of the satellite (7-8 km/s) compared to that of a missile (a mere 3-4 km/s). There's no lack of kinetic energy, that's for sure.
Posted by: dr2chase on February 15, 2008 at 7:16 PM

That's the fascinating way orbital mechanics works. Missiles are like rocks you throw really hard, they go really far and land on the other sie of the planet. Satellites are rocks thrown really, really hard and keep falling past the other side of the planet, and they keep falling and falling, going around and around. Throw it even harder and it escapes Earth's "gravity well" entirely.

Even cooler than that are objects in geo-stationary orbit. They aren't stationary at all. They're going really fast, but they're at the point at which they are falling/moving at the exact speed to stay above the same spot on Earth.

And, because gravity affects all things equally regardless of their mass, geosynchronous altitude is the same for any object, about 36,000 km.

There's a lot of fun tricks you can play with gravity. Did you know that the force of Earth's gravity is strongest on the Earth's surface?

Even cosmic objects consisting of a lot of heavy elements like iron typically lose a lot of mass on the way in.
Posted by: Swan on February 15, 2008 at 11:08 PM

Asteroids (meteors when they hit the atmosphere) travel about 17 km/sec., suffering more than four times the atmospheric resistance of satellites, but that's not to disagree with your point...

Posted by: anonymous on February 16, 2008 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that this is likely an excuse to test our ASAT capabilities.

However, satellite component reentry survival is extremely difficult to model and predict. It's surprising how many components have made it to the ground in recognizable form, especially beryllium, titanium and stainless steel parts. Also, the "softer" parts often are buried and insulated, which helps them survive the peak heating period during reentry (e.g., stainless steel fuel tanks).

In short, smashing the satellite into smaller parts would definitely minimize the probability of components surviving reentry.

Posted by: has407 on February 16, 2008 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

IntelVet: We used to use nuclear reactors in spy satellites. We don't anymore?

You're probably thinking of radio-isotope thermal generators (RTG's), which aren't reactors--at least in the sens most people use the word. RTG's are used primarily for deep-space and surface missions where solar power is spotty or insufficient.

I think RTG's were also used in a few near-earth missions long ago, but anything closer than Mars is generally better served by solar. In any case, reentry protection of RTG's is well understood and practiced, and I'd be very surprised if that was a source of concern.

IIRC the Russians used beryllium-uranium reactors in some satellites--much bigger, bulkier and harder to protect than RTG's--such as the one that came down over Canada in in 1978 and caused such an uproar as it scattered radioactive debris all over the place.

Posted by: has407@pobox.com on February 16, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

There's nothing mysterious about criminals disguising their profiteering scams with fear-mongering designed to deceive people into believing that it's all for their own safety.

It's a straightforward protection racket.

Posted by: Chicken Little on February 16, 2008 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

This satellite is the size of a bus, and probably contains quite a bit of dense metalwork.
Skylab, while it was descending, was still a spacecraft under control from the ground, and they could nudge it sufficiently to be certain of where it would impact.
Apparently, they do not have that control over this one - and it's somewhat strange that the potential debris path hasn't been made public. Usually they are a long time in advance.
This one could be a Chicken Little moment come true.

Posted by: SteinL on February 16, 2008 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

Skylab was was suppose to impact over the Indian Ocean or the Pacific. It wasn't for lack of trying that it didn't, but the fates put it down over Australia. All of which is a lesson in the limits of control and calculation when it comes to these things.

The reason the reentry profile for this one hasn't been made public is because it's one of those which is "off the books", which is SOP for this type of mission. Which, all things considered, is pretty dumb...

Much of what's out there is tracked, with advisories issued on a regular basis; see here. However, that doesn't include the secret (*cough*) stuff, which the NRO et. al. doesn't publish. However, amateurs track them; see here).

Posted by: has407 on February 16, 2008 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

I figure the main answer is that shooting random stuff is fun. That accounts for a good chunk of the DOD budget and the paucity of intact refrigerators along lonely roads in rural Nevada.

As I brought up the reactor idea in a previous thread I'll push the conspiracy theory here and see if I can get tbrosz to come out from the woodwork:

Nuclear reactors have been used previously for active radar satellites and there are a variety of good reasons this -- higher energy (more illuminating power for higher more stable orbits), less drag, more mission flexibility (bursts of images for tactical use, night time use, etc.). Mapping the ocean or geology requires a lot fewer images per unit time than tracking enemy missiles or aircraft during a war. Read up on RORSAT.

Our newest set of spy satellites are supposed to incorporate active radar systems.

Some sort of offensive or defensive weapons would be another explanation for a reactor. Perhaps sharks with lasers.

This satellite never unfurled solar panels. Maybe it never had them.

Destroying the satellite at a higher orbit could serve the purpose of distributing radioactive materials over a larger area and/or making sure the purpose of these radioactive materials is less obvious to those who find wreckage.

Oh yeah, the United Steel Workers Local 15025 was the mastermind behind 9-11.

Posted by: B on February 16, 2008 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Anyway, the experts seems to have weighed in that the missile shot isn't necessary, despite our layman figuring about what re-entry is likely to do to the satellite.

I'd like to hear an opinion about how likely it really is the satellite contains technology that isn't already publicly available anyway.

Posted by: Swan on February 16, 2008 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Despite the cool space-stuff and spy-stuff angles to this story, I'm afraid this may just be another one on the huge heap of stories that have come out of the Bush administration over the years that is explicable as garden-variety stupidity.

Posted by: Swan on February 16, 2008 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

I don't have any problem with it, beyond the comical excuses used to hide it. But maybe this gives them wiggle room after the inevitable failure.

Posted by: orion on February 16, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

less drag,
Posted by: Swan on February 16, 2008 at 10:38 AM

Huh???

Posted by: anonymous on February 16, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

less drag: the degradation of satellite orbits is largely controlled by interaction with v. low density gas. Large solar panels make it worse and therefore limits the lifespan of satellites, especially in low earth orbit where active radar is the most useful.

Posted by: asdf on February 16, 2008 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, I don't seem to have written anything about drag in my 10:38 comment. Maybe anonymous at 3:29 PM put name under the quote by accident?

Posted by: Swan on February 16, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Whoops, yes, it was "B" that had the drag comment.

And what asdf said. Just checking.

Posted by: anonymous on February 16, 2008 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Satellites in drag? That's it.

It's a gay satellite and Bush is shooting it down to please the religious right.

Issue solved!

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 16, 2008 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Do you seriously think they design a spy satellite and don't consider the possibility of it falling down? It's pretty easy to ensure the classified part burns up. In fact it would be hard to do otherwise.
Posted by: alex

Uh, I seriously know it's not a major part of the design process. This is all wild guessing, since we don't know what the satellite's purpose was, but the innards of the satellite, the signal processing parts and perhaps other key technologies like maybe what generates the radar if it is an active sensor, could survive reentry. They'd be buried in the body of the satellite while the outer parts burned off. Again, swagging here.

I'd like to hear an opinion about how likely it really is the satellite contains technology that isn't already publicly available anyway.
Posted by: Swan

Thread creep here. You won't get an opinion from anyone that really knows. But you can bet long before the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, for example, spy people were using that capability. The Hubble was basically a spy satellite looking the other direction. They probably turned it outwards to do fine focus work against point sources (stars). Can you imagine the things they saw that they couldn't talk about?

Similar for gamma ray bursters. They were first discovered by defense satellites used to look for ontoward nuke explosions.

Posted by: sjrsm on February 16, 2008 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

Bush is getting caught up in his own rhetoric. He thinks shooting down the satellte will verify star wars, but given the record to date it is just as likely the it will end in technical humiliation when the navey fails to hit anything. Remember this is Agis, the same system that couldn't tell a Iranian airliner from an F-14.

Posted by: fafner1 on February 16, 2008 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

"The yellow race will rule the world", in spite of our war mongering politicians.

Posted by: Kill Bill on February 17, 2008 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

sjrsm: Uh, I seriously know it's not a major part of the design process.

It may not be a major part of the design process, but it is definitely a part of the process these days (although the NRO may be the exception). NASA, ESA, et. al. have guidelines for "reentry disposal" and "space debris mitigation", and there are survivability modeling tools used by NASA, ESA, DOD, etc. to help mitigate risk and plan for end-of-mission disposal.

Posted by: has407 on February 17, 2008 at 3:27 AM | PERMALINK

Independent of the merits and motives of this move, debris really isn't an issue. There are solid, physics-based, non-partisan reasons why virtually nothing from an impact would stay up any longer than the few days to weeks the satellite would have had anyway. So while "we're sending a message to China" may be true, "this makes our criticism of their debris from last winter hypocritical" is not.

More generally: "Militarization [or "weaponization"] of space" is way overblown -- by both those eager for it and those concerned about it. One limited part of it -- relatively small satellites for surveillance, communications and navigation -- is real, and has been part of the strategic picture for 45+ years now. They're worthwhile to armed forces for the same reason their civilian counterparts -- commsats, remote sensing, GPS -- are worthwhile: they're all about data, which can be moved around easily with the cost shared among many users.

But all the rest -- SDI battle stations, "rods from god," terawatt lasers in orbit -- is far too expensive, and offers too little advantage over ground-based weapons, to be more than Powerpoint fantasy. They demand orders of magnitude more mass and power (which in turn means more mass, whether from nuclear reactors or huge solar arrays). And the same factors that drove the ISS way behind schedule and way over budget would apply. Until getting big payloads to orbit becomes much, much cheaper (still probably decades away), they are simply not going to happen.

Posted by: Monte Davis on February 17, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Remember this is Agis, the same system that couldn't tell a Iranian airliner from an F-14.
Posted by: fafner1

That's not its job. A radar blip is a radar blip. It just hits what you tell it to hit.

Posted by: sjrsm on February 18, 2008 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Yah, but it couldn't tell an airliner climbing out of Terhan at 30,000 feet from an F-14 diving down from 10,000 feet to attack. Oh well, they still gave the captain of the Vincennes a medal. It's safe too say Agis has improved a bit over the years, so just maybe it will be able to perform technically. The command judgement issues remain however.

Posted by: fafner1 on February 18, 2008 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously the administration didn't want to offer Taco Bell the same self promotional op that it had with the Mir satellite.

Posted by: Robert Lee on February 18, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Too bad the satellite doesn't look like a Republican lawyer. Then they could duct tape Cheney's ass to a missile, give him a 12 gauge and let him shoot it out of the sky. He might struggle a bit at first but he ought to settle down if they tell him he's going quail hunting in Texas.

Posted by: Jim Brodhead on February 18, 2008 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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