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Call In the Military To Blast Rogue Satellite? 243

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the star-wars-is-awesome dept.
coondoggie submitted a follow-up to the tale of the wandering satellite that might collide with other stuff in orbit. He asks "Will the military need to be called in to blow up the rogue Intelsat satellite meandering through Earth's orbit? Or maybe a NASA Space Shuttle could swing by and grab it? You may recall that in 2008, rather than risk that a large piece of a failing spy satellite would fall on populated areas, the government blasted it out of the sky. The physics of such a shot were complicated and the Navy had a less than 10-second window to hit the satellite as it passed over its ships in the Pacific Ocean. But it worked. Now word comes that a five-year-old Intelsat TV satellite is meandering in orbit and attempts to control it have proven futile. At issue now is that the satellite could smash into other satellites or ramble into other satellite orbits and abscond with their signals."
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Call In the Military To Blast Rogue Satellite?

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:39AM (#32194072)
    Well, I guess now at least we know what the launch of that secretive X-37B [cnet.com] Air Force shuttle was for. So we should be safe, assuming that a PS3 update [slashdot.org] doesn't screw up its aiming system.
    • by nospam007 (722110) * on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:51AM (#32194284)

      The satellite is Luxembourg-owned, which has an army of 600 soldiers, 2 cannons and no plane, so I don't see that happening.

    • by Bakkster (1529253)

      My first thought when I heard about this satellite was if the X-37 had the propellant to reach geosynchronous orbit (which I highly doubt). Seems to be a job for which a general-purpose reusable craft is designed for: go out of the way, do something rarely attempted (collect a misbehaving sat), and down-mass back to Earth in the process.

      It would also be a great proof of concept for future clandestine operations: if you have enough X-37s in the air all the time, it's no longer out of the ordinary to see a

      • by speedlaw (878924)
        Which works up until the point the self-destruct charge in the captured satellite goes off while the X-37 has it in the hold. DoH !
        • by Bakkster (1529253)

          Depending on if the satellite designers anticipated the need for such measures. It could depend on when it was launched (pre-shuttle satellites might not expect anyone to have the capabilities to capture it), what it is for, or have different methods to prevent tampering. Remember, excess weight on a satellite is incredibly expensive, it would take a lot of convincing to put the weight of an explosive in a satellite if you aren't expecting to need to use it.

          It's certainly likely, but not the only possibl

    • by NonSenseAgency (1759800) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:06PM (#32194514)
      The X-37B, the Space Shuttle, all current anti-satellite missiles, in short all systems that the military currently acknowledges having cannot reach far enough to "destroy" the satellite. Such an outcome is not even desirable as it would turn the satellite into a field of orbiting buckshot that would "mostly" remain in the same orbit. Which is to say some would not and would inevitably impact nearby satellites and possibly create more problems. Likewise, hitting it with a ground based laser, although probably doable, would not be a good idea. As it stands now, the satellite will not come back to Earth, there is no danger of reentry. It will most likely end up at the Lagrange point as has already been stated.
      • by EdZ (755139)
        I'm curious as to which 'Lagrange point' it's supposed to end up at, and how exactly it will get there without and additional energy input. Even the Earth-Moon L1 point is 10 times further out than GEO, and it's not even a stable point.
      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        The X-37B, the Space Shuttle, ... cannot reach far enough to "destroy" the satellite. Such an outcome is not even desirable as it would turn the satellite into a field of orbiting buckshot that would "mostly" remain in the same orbit.

        If we wanted to destroy it, we wouldn't use the space shuttle or X-37. That's what missiles are (or would be) for. The Shuttle/X-37 would be used to retreive the satellite and return it to earth, or to 'nudge' it to a graveyard orbit.

        This is, of course, assuming we were talking about a satellite in LEO that could be reached by these systems.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:40AM (#32194082) Journal

    Call In the Military To Blast Rogue Satellite?

    Look at it this way, they've already demonstrated to the rest of the world that their toys can knock your toys out of the sky. And that is the unquestioned belief right now which is why China had to run a similar test [bbc.co.uk] ... er "emergency to save other satellites." Why jeopardize your status as anti-satellite super power to actually do something positive?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cassini2 (956052)

      It is really important to not detonate a missile against a satellite. Essentially, it results in a bunch of high-velocity projectiles, that destroy other satellites in the area. People will be quite upset if you detonate a satellite in geosynchronous orbit and destroy a bunch of other satellites in the process.

      A more realistic option would be to send a robot into orbit, and have it carefully push the errant satellite into a higher or lower orbit. The key technical issue is that satellites are deliberat

      • Couldn't you use another satellite to push it out of orbit? It would be destroyed in the process, but that's got to be safer and less expensive than a missile.... right?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Shakrai (717556) *

          but that's got to be safer and less expensive than a missile.... right?

          How do you think the satellite would get up there? It would ride on the top of a rocket. The only difference between a rocket and a missile is the intended usage thereof.

          • I was thinking more along the lines of a depreciated already existing one.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Bakkster (1529253)

              If it's deprecated and in GEO, it probably has no method to latch onto the other satellite (too much weight for no forseeable purpose) and insufficient propellant (why do you think we deprecate most GEO satellites?). It's a non-starter.

  • No, and no (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:42AM (#32194120)

    As was clearly stated the last time we had this exact discussion:

    - far too high for the space shuttle
    - most assuredly too high for most anti-sat missiles

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Em Emalb (452530)

      and (3)---No Taco Bell sponsorship...yet.

    • The amount of debris generated would further 'pollute' the orbit around earth....
      • If this stops satellite TV stations from polluting the skies with gameshows and comedies, I'm all in favour of blowing the satellite up in the way that causes the worst debris field possible.

    • consider also it takes months to put up a shuttle launch, and there are only two or three left in the history of the system.

      and consider that any method of blasting the errant satellite makes zillions of smaller, faster, deadlier satellites to puncture and kill the rest of that orbital window.

      what we desperately need is a space janitor to creep along orbits and trap all the errant bolts, paint chips, and snattered rocket nacelles from all the decrepit crap floating about, endangering the space systems we h

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by smoothnorman (1670542)
        Buck-Henry has the plans already drawn up... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_(TV_series) [wikipedia.org] "...Quark is an American science fiction situation comedy starring Richard Benjamin ... May 7, 1977 (canceled in April 1978). Quark was created by Buck Henry, ...The show was set on the United Galaxies Sanitation Patrol Cruiser, an interstellar garbage scow operating out of United Galaxies Space Station Perma One in the year 2222. Adam Quark, the main character, works to clean up trash in space by collecting "spa
    • Is /. trading places with The Onion? WTF is this crap doing on the front page. Doesn't anyone know the difference between hundreds of miles and tens of thousands of miles? That's like the difference between a road trip to Tijuana and a road trip to Tierra del Fuego.

      • by Eil (82413)

        Well in either case, the difference doesn't seem to be terribly acute after a few beers.

      • That's like the difference between a road trip to Tijuana and a road trip to Tierra del Fuego.

        I'm game for either destination :)

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      1 Is correct.
      2 Is correct but doesn't matter since it only takes one anti-sat weapon to take it out.

      The best answer is 3
      It would be a terrible idea blast it. because it would put a lot of orbital debris in to Geosync exactly where we don't need them and where they will stay for a very long time

      Frankly if we could just launch a satellite that would put it in a Mylar bag that would fix the problem. Block the antenna and the solar cells. Not that it would be easy. Honestly the best thing is for this thing to l

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I agree with this. I think the only thing that makes sense (if it is even possible) is some sort of laser/radiation pulse that would cook the electronics on the sat without causing debris.

      I would guess the millitary has a way of doing this, but it is probably quite classified and you would in theory need permission of the owner.

  • Space shuttle (Score:3, Informative)

    by catbutt (469582) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:42AM (#32194122)
    Doesn't come anywhere close to geosynchronous orbit (22,000 miles high)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I do not think that word means what you think it means.
  • by RichMan (8097) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:43AM (#32194136)

    Stuff does not deorbit like a syfy movie.

    I would think the tightly contained 1 big bit of a satellite is much safer than the thousands of little tiny parts in all sorts of orbits you are going to get if you try and destroy the one big bit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by yincrash (854885)
      many little bits have much more surface area which increases friction to cause it to fall to Earth much quicker and have a much much higher chance of burning up completely on the way down.
      • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@worfMOSCOW.net minus city> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:55AM (#32194348)

        many little bits have much more surface area which increases friction to cause it to fall to Earth much quicker and have a much much higher chance of burning up completely on the way down.

        Problem is, there's a period of time when those little bits are made from that one big bit, and when those little bits deorbit. During that time, those little bits can choose to impact other satellites in the same or lower orbits, which causes the impacted satellites to have more little bits ripped off and sent flying around.

        That's one of the big problems we have right now - we could reach a point where space junk contributes to making more space junk by destroying working satellites which cause a nice chain reaction as that new space junk has increased the chances a satellite will get hit.

        The other thing is Galaxy 15 is at or near GEO. Which means those pieces will take a long time to deorbit, and with random orbits there's a good change they'll take out other satellites in GEO as well. Best to just let it naturally find a new equilibrium position at one of the Lagrange points. At least if it breaks up there those pieces will tend to stay there.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Andy Dodd (701)

          That's pretty much what is done with failed GEO satellites - the problem with this one is that navigation and control failed but the payload is still active and they can't turn it off.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Yeah but it's in geostationary orbit, that's way up there, it's not like in LEO where you still get a lot of atmospheric drag.
      • by idontgno (624372) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:03PM (#32194492) Journal

        Friction? In a Clarke orbit?

        The only interactions the "many little bits" are likely to participate in would have unpredictable orbital effects (like boosting fragments into more elliptical but semi-stable orbits, threatening more orbital space), and also more likely to have cause high-velocity collision damage to other spacecraft at the same orbital altitude and node.

    • by jvillain (546827)

      Instead of firing a bullet at the neighbouring satellites they would be firing a shot gun at it instead. To make matters worse they currently have some thing they can track and has a predictable orbit. What the author wants to trade that in for is lots of orbits that they may or may not be able to track and may no longer be able to safely move out of the way from. If the military should try to fire on this satellite the reason would be all about testing a weapon rather than trying to make space safer.

  • Isn't the "rogue" satellite in GEO? Although probabily there's ready ways to intercept something in a lower orbit would it be possible to do it in GEO?

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:44AM (#32194160)

    With "privatize the space industry" all in vogue these days, the government should issue Satellite Hunting Licenses to private companies, with $$$ prizes for taking it out.

    Let the private sector nail that varmint!

  • Shuttle? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TamCaP (900777) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:44AM (#32194172)
    The part about the shuttle is obviously a joke, right? It can barely make it to the LEO, it is not able to reach a very highly located geosynchronous orbit. + why would you want to risk the lives of the crew and send a completely crazy unscheduled mission? And for some cheapo (in space terms) comms satellite? If they will send anything, it will be an unmanned mission, but even this is unlikely.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      Shuttle makes it to LEO just fine, there's no "barely" about it.

    • by delinear (991444)
      It might be easier to launch something from the shuttle to push the satellite out into deep space than it would be to launch something from the ground. Having said that, I think you're right, they won't waste money on this unless a) there's some new weapons tech they want to trial, or b) we reach crisis point with debris smashing up functioning satellites on a regular basis.
  • They can't (Score:5, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:45AM (#32194188)

    The US doesn't appear to have a system capable of destroying something at that orbit.

    Now the first paragraph in the article is just full of ignorance.

    "Will the military need to be called in to blow up the rogue Intelsat satellite meandering through Earth's orbit? Or maybe a NASA Space Shuttle could swing by and grab it?"

    Again, the military hasn't demonstrated the ability to hit things in that orbit. The Shuttle can't go that high.

    The F-15 launched ASM-135 ASAT - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASM-135_ASAT [wikipedia.org] - could go up to 350 miles.
    USA-193 was destroyed at 130 miles

    Galaxy 15 is at 22,230 miles

  • by franknagy (56133)

    The wayward satellite is in (or near) geosychronous orbit (23+K miles up). The shuttle cannot
    reach that orbit, being limited to a couple of hundred miles altitude. Similarly, the anti-satellite
    weapons are only designed for low orbit satellites (spy satellites and other military targets).

    Now, if we had ever gone ahead and build the interorbit taxi/transport as an adjunct to
    the space station (either robotic or manned), we would have a solution to the problem.
    Right now we are stuck.

  • short answer? No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Nadaka (224565) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:49AM (#32194246)

    Long answer? No. And this is why.

    This satellite is in geosynchronous orbit. A shuttle mission is not an option, the orbit is to high. Retasking an ICBM or other missile to intercept is not an option, the orbit is to high.

    Lasers could be an option, if one existed with the right power and accuracy. This thing is thousands of miles farther than any destructive laser has ever been targeted. Then you have to deal with not just a meandering satellite but possibly a cloud of debris capable of knocking out other satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

  • Blowing up a satellite in orbit seems like a great way to solve the orbital debris problem to me.
  • Lasers? (Score:5, Funny)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:49AM (#32194250)
    What if everyone on earth pointed their laser pointers at it at the same time? It would have at least as good a chance as sending the space shuttle.
  • Best to move it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MpVpRb (1423381) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:50AM (#32194274)

    Blowing it up would create a huge cloud of debris...very bad.

    It's in geostationary orbit (~22000 miles), so it's way beyond the shuttle altitude.

    Maybe somebody could develop a small space "tug" that could be launched to intercept it, and gently push it out of the way?

    Probably a lot harder to actually do than to speculate about, and it would probably take years, and cost millions.

    So...no easy answers.

    • If they would build a space tug then they could also divert killer asteroids away from earth.

      IOW: nothing will be done unless cable/sat TV is knocked out in the USA. TV keep the people happy, as in "bread and circuses".

  • ... nuke it!
  • If they are concerned about this satellite hitting other satellites, it would seem that traffic up there is getting pretty high. We know that of course there are varying reasons for launching satellites and some launches are done with little information shared on their purpose or location.

    Nonetheless, is there an agency anywhere that has a good estimate of how many satellites are up there, where they are, and in which direction they are travelling? Is it something that NASA and others would start to pay
  • A space bulldozer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189)

    We need a maneuverable satellite dedicated to cleaning up our garbage. It could find a wayward satellite or piece of space debris and push it down into the atmosphere to burn up at a safe time and place. Call it a space bulldozer.

    Any nation that has put up more than a token number of satellites should take the responsible action and put up a bulldozer satellite. They can then go around and work on slowly cleaning up their messes. Space is littered with an incredible amount of junk, and it would benefit ever

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by d1r3lnd (1743112)

      Actually, space debris will clean itself up over time... the question is just how long it will take.

      Launching a "space bulldozer" would then require periodic refueling, add in the risk of the space dozer itself becoming an orbital hazard (do you think orchestrating collisions between the space dozer and its targets would be easy and reliable?)... it's not exactly a feasible solution at the moment.

      What you're suggesting is a bit like suggesting that we keep a refueling tanker in the air at all times, just in

    • by eleuthero (812560)
      Yes... and when we make this space bulldozer and international tensions rise, what's to stop me from using this completely harmless tool to destroy the satellite network of nation X? There will be just as much offense taken at us doing precisely this as when we toasted a satellite a while back in a much lower orbit. While it would be great to clean up the mess up there, just leaving it where it is and maybe microwaving its broadcast unit would allow for everyone to know where the satellite was and avoid the
  • What about (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal (1427207) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:56AM (#32194376)
    Okay I'm not an expert on how they get satellites up to geosynchronous orbit, but it seems to me the most expedient way would be to re-purpose what ever delivery system they use to get the things up there in the first place.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by idontgno (624372)

      That's the closest thing I've heard to a sensible approach (other than "leave the damn thing alone, it's not doing any real harm.")

      Barring extensive magical thinking, the only thing which can get up to geosync orbit is another geosync vehicle, using an appropriate heavy-lift booster programmed and sequenced to insert SOMETHING into a not-quite-rendezvous geosync orbit. Then the SOMETHING has to maneuver into rendezvous and do its thing. (Fix the broken satellite, grappel and do a de-orbit burn, whatever.)

      So

      • by timster (32400)

        Wouldn't it take a lot of fuel to de-orbit from GEO? Is that even something that could be delivered on an existing vehicle?

  • When did uninformed bloggers become news for nerds? Was there a memo that I missed?
  • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:00PM (#32194446) Journal

    ok, other already pointed that the shuttle and military interceptors can't reach geosychronous orbit, but about satelites that are already there ?

    isn't there any old, almost decomissioned satelite near that orbit that is:

    a) still under control from ground station
    b) with fuel enough to manouver to galaxy 15's orbit ?

    it doesn, t need to be a big impact, just a slow relative speed collision to nudge G15 to either deorbit it or send it to a lagrange point.

  • May I suggest the ASM-135 ASAT [wikipedia.org]. We did spend $5.3 billion dollars (1986 dollars no less) on it so might as well use them all up now.
    • The service ceiling of the ASM-135 ASAT is 135 miles.

      The orbit of geosynchronous satellites is about 26,000 miles.

    • by idontgno (624372)

      Brilliant! Except to my knowledge, there aren't any in the inventory.

      And... you'll have to bring the satellite a bit closer to Earth first.

      Operational range 403 miles (648 km)
      Flight ceiling 350 miles (563 km)

      But tell you what. Go ahead and lower the orbit of the defective satellite by 98 2/3% and the US Air Force will handle the rest.

    • by amorsen (7485)

      May I suggest you read the article you link to?

      Flight ceiling 350 miles (563 km)

  • by Goldenhawk (242867) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:01PM (#32194466) Homepage

    In case you don't remember, stuff traveling at orbital velocities is positively lethal to spacecraft. The extreme energies involved in these kinds of impacts is enough to send very high velocity fragments in all directions. Sure, some of it will de-orbit, but most will end up in fairly stable orbits that will EVENTUALLY intersect all the other satellites up there. So blowing up one rogue satellite makes one very annoying but eminently predictable problem into a thousand lethal and unpredictable problems.

    Last February, a Russian satellite hit a commercial Iridium satellite, and the resulting debris cloud (estimated near 600 pieces in various orbits) has been a HUGE headache for everyone in similar orbital altitudes.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123438921888374497.html [wsj.com]
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29147679/ [msn.com]

    In 2008, the US got criticized around the world for blowing up a falling satellite because of the health threats of hydrazine if it landed in a populated area. Aside from complaints about military showboating, there were many scientists who complained about the resulting orbital debris; however, in reality it was a very low-altitude explosion and the debris cloud did de-orbit very quickly (unlike a geosynchronous orbit explosion, which would leave practically permanent debris due to the orbit well above any appreciable atmospheric drag).
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_6712/is_35_237/ai_n29417848/ [findarticles.com]

    Read here for some details on the general problems with orbital debris.
    http://illuminations.nctm.org/LessonDetail.aspx?id=L376 [nctm.org]

    So no more helpful suggestions like this, please.

  • No, and no. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:02PM (#32194476) Homepage

    "Will the military need to be called in to blow up the rogue Intelsat satellite meandering through Earth's orbit? Or maybe a NASA Space Shuttle could swing by and grab it?

    What? The answer is no, and no.

    First, this satellite is at geosynchronous orbit altitude. That is a hundred times higher than the altitude of the satellite that was downed by the ground-based missile. You can't reach it with that weapon, and you absolutely, certainly can't "grab it" with the space shuttle. No. Not even close. Not even close to close.

    Also, note that the satellite that was downed was in very low orbit. The significance of that was that all the pieces of it were in very low orbit, and hence they decayed in the atmosphere within a very short time of its destruction. The very worst, stupidest possible thing ever to do would be to "blow up the rogue satellite," because debris from a blown-up satellite in geosynchronous orbit would not decay, but would stay in the geosynchronous orbit pretty much forever. This would be a very bad thing.

  • > Satellite: Abscond

    Can't abscond, bro!

  • How did this get published on NetworkWorld's site? As other comments have pointed out, this is a completely ridiculous idea on so many levels it's laughable. Yet TFA seems to be serious!

  • Why not just attach a long, weighted tether to it? Use a magnet to hold it on and the change in center of mass will pull put rotation on it, like a bolas [wikipedia.org]. Once it is spinning around the new center of mass, you can disconnect the weight (by radio) and send it on a higher orbit. Then you only have two pieces of trash - one going out (the satallite), one coming in (the weight) and you can control the release time so that it comes in over the pacific. Then you only have one piece of trash headed away from the

  • by starglider29a (719559) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:25PM (#32194752)
    http://xkcd.com/681_large/ [xkcd.com]
    In particular, look at the panel of Earth, which is under Uranus and Neptune, lower right.

    Geez, XKCD should win the Pulitzer Prize for this graphic. If a picture is worth a KiloWord, this is worth a MegaWord of explanation. This should be required viewing in all 8th Grade science classes.
  • Somebody has, in seriousness, suggested that the military, or NASA, should step in and neutralize a private operator's errant satellite so that our precious, precious, TV service need not fear interruption. I have yet to see a single person mention that this is, perhaps, not a terribly important use of public funds. What gives?
  • by DarthVain (724186) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @01:37PM (#32196076)

    Better nuke it from..... er never mind.

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @01:55PM (#32196398) Homepage Journal

    From what I've read, the most severe impact of this drifting, nonresponsive bird is that it is repeating all RF it is receiving, which will not only interfere with any other birds it goes by, but is polluting the spectrum.

    So, if this is the worst effect, then just disabling it would be a real plus, and dodging it as G15 drifts out of harm's way is just a matter of waiting.

    THIS would be a job for a laser. Cut off the solar panels, burn holes in it until it stops transmitting, it might not take much to kill this bird. Blowing it up just causes a debris field, though strapping or clipping a PAM onto it could let them drive it somewhere safe, like the ocean... Burning up in the atmosphere would be a good resolution right now.

    Losing GCCS (or is it WAAS?) is unfortunate, and I don't know if there is a backup. Must be. :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheSync (5291)

      The Laser Weapon Calculator [5596.org] says that at a distance of 35,786 km, a laser with a wavelength of 2.9e-7m, to vaporize 1cm of aluminum, you would need a 1.0 GW laser operating for 1 second with a lens 20m radius.

      The most powerful CW lasers used currently are of MW class, not GW, such as the COIL laser on the Airborne Laser Testbed [fas.org]. It's wavelength is 1.3um, so let's imagine you can run it at 1MW and hold it on target for 100s, to vaporize 1cm of aluminum you'd need a 200m radius lens....even if you crank the

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