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Next Major War in Space? 805

An anonymous reader writes "A US Northern Command general thinks that with US and international military dependence on space assets (such as GPS, eyes in the sky, communications), the next major conflict will occur in the heavens. He acknowledged that the US wants to keep space peaceful, but that can't last forever, and potential threats might not care, anyway. Yes, China's recent success (or what we heard from the military secrecy) relates to this, but he also said he's not implying China is a threat, or will be."
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Next Major War in Space?

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  • by Davak ( 526912 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @09:00AM (#7238628) Homepage
    Just because a country can't send people into space does not mean that they will not be a space threat.

    Satellite seeking missles could easily take down our communications and GPS systems. Multiple different countries now have the ability to buy or launch satellite systems directly into space.

    China isn't the only player involved here.

    This is why the USA should continue to pour money into our space program--not just for research, but for security.

  • by Hittite Creosote ( 535397 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @09:02AM (#7238647)
    From the article, it looks like the general is just suggesting that at some point, some adversary may decide to attack US satellites. I mean, it's no surprise that they would - if your enemy in war has an advantage and you could take that advantage away from them, you would. It's just that, so far, the US hasn't got into a shooting war with a country that could attack this capability. But blowing up a few satellites hardly constitutes a 'major' war, merely an important part of it.
  • by arvindn ( 542080 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @09:23AM (#7238837) Homepage Journal
    The tragedy of the commons is perhaps best illustrated with space as the example. That beautiful sky above you has become a giant dumping yard for all kinds of debris from satellites, making earth orbit increasingly hazardous. You might think that a few chunks of metal in the vastness of space are insignificant, but keep in mind that even a small fleck of paint, traveling at extremely high velocities, can cause significant damage.

    All this would be of no concern if it were not for the Kellser Effect. Basically, when two pieces of debris collide, they break up into several more pieces of debris, which inturn increases the rate of collisions... What's happening right now is an exponential growth in the number of pieces of junk out there (note again that a decrease in the size does not lead to a corresponding decrease in its harmfulness), threatning to make orbit all but impossible within the next couple of decades.

    Its bad enough as it is, and we need to think of a way to solve the problem real fast. If space turns into anything remotely resembling a "battleground", space will be a very, very different place from what it is now. Perhaps it will even mean the end of the space age.

  • by Yokito ( 597197 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @09:35AM (#7238964)
    Chalmers Johnson says in his new book: "The Sorrows of Empire : Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic" that from 2004 on the U.S. is going to start either to sabotage or to destroy satellites from other nations. This book is not out yet.
  • Intelligence (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @09:45AM (#7239084) Homepage
    As far as I can tell, our satellites are useful for A: GPS recievers, which can be jammed more cheaply on the ground B: Communications, which can be jammed more cheaply on the ground... and would take out their own comm satellites and C: Intelligence satellites, which are in high geosynchronous orbit.

    If someone decided to attack satellites in their area, the result would look less like a war (with two sides firing), and more like someone shooting at passing cars on the highway. By treaty, satellites have no defensive or offensive capability.

    So really, the general is saying that at some point our sitting ducks will be shot down.

  • Re:American fanatics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @09:47AM (#7239115) Homepage Journal
    A common misconception is that Jesus spoke of international relations.
    He spoke of interpersonal relations.
    Thus, what a G.W. Bush might or might not do in the context of 'loving his neighbor' in Crawford, TX needs to be seen as distinct from his actions as POTUS.
    Now, I think Jimmy Carter is the most under-rated president in US history. The reason he gets low billing is that he didn't do to Iran at the end of the 70's what the US just did to Afghanistan over 9/11. Because the compassion Jesus preached for dealing with everyone around us, regardless of race, age, political- and sexual orientation simply doesn't apply to acts of war on the international level.
    Getting back on topic, the article is a joke. Putting stuff in space is ridiculously expensive.
    Targeting stuff in space is ridiculously hard.
    Thus, a war could potentially start with something out there in the vacuum, but would quickly be pulled down into the vauums in the heads of the leaders on earth.
    There is no need to preach pacifism; preach the common sense that war is too expensive.
  • Re:Paranoia (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 17, 2003 @10:06AM (#7239316)
    I'm sure that the communist regime that runs China will stop after shooting down all the U.S. satellites has over China. I mean History shows that communist governments don't really want to expand their borders or dominate the world. Just ask hundreds of millions of people who died under communist expansion during the 20th Century. Wait, you can't. They're all dead.
  • by Mulletproof ( 513805 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @12:16PM (#7240548) Homepage Journal
    "...what military threat does China possess?"

    That's incredibly short-sighted [worldnetdaily.com]. We're talking about a country that can put over a billion people towards a war time effort that is aggressively updating it's military. We're also talking about the country that led the invasions of Korea and Vietnam and the country with an outstandingly bad human rights record [google.com] for the better half of a century.

    I know the strategy is to introduce capitalism by trade, eventially destabilizing a communistic system, but I'm not so sure it's working entirely as planned in this case... At anyrate, discounting china as a threat is a mistake of epic porportions given their past record and current actions.
  • by neurojab ( 15737 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @01:29PM (#7241308)

    I agree with your points about fear mongering...
    Just imagine how much resources we spend to "fight terrorism" and how little resources terrorists need to make us panic. By "fighting terrorism" on such a large scale, we're doing the very things that make terrorists win their battles: Hurt the economy of their enemy.

    >how silly most fears regarding terrorists using atomic (and to a degree, biological and even chemical weapons is) are.

    However, I have to disagree with that. Do you believe that a terrorist could not get access to any amount of radioactive material? Do you believe that a terrorist could not figure out how to blow up such material with a conventional explosive? Of course they could. Unless they got a hold of something really nasty like weapons grade plutonium or plutonium dust, they couldn't cause real mass destruction, but they certainly could induce the panic necessary to cause us to "fight terrorism" even more, sending us into further economic chaos.
  • by Xrc65kl ( 524982 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @01:35PM (#7241364) Homepage
    >> the US wants to keep space peaceful

    Keeping space peaceful may be one general's dream, but further militarisation of space is certainly in the plans of others. Creation of "US Space Forces" to ensure American hegemony is one recommendation of the Project for the New American Century [newamericancentury.org] (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz, Kagan, et al.) in their pre-Bush (Sept 2000) document Rebuilding America's Defenses [newamericancentury.org].

    It's a long document, but a must-read if you want to understand their mid-90's planning for Gulf War II and their plans for the future of US foreign policy.
  • by Ribald ( 140704 ) on Friday October 17, 2003 @01:43PM (#7241441)
    Forgive me if the question is a little ignorantly phrased, but what about the same orbit, but going the opposite direction?

    Yeah, that could work, but there are problems with that, too.

    One problem is getting it going in the opposite direction--you've got the earth rate to contend with. These velocities are not related to a point on the surface of the earth--they're velocities in an intertial frame. In general terms, you have to be going 8km/sec with respect to a point at the very center of the earth. To get going backwards, you have to first 'slow down' from the initial velocity of the spinning earth's surface, then accelerate to circular satellite speed in the opposite direction.

    I suppose this is do-able, it just takes a lot more fuel. But even if you do that, closing speed is going to be about 16 km/sec. with your target. That's about 36000 miles per hour. Guidance becomes a real issue at those speeds--there's not much time to correct, and satellites are small.

    Even an orbital rendezvous is difficult, as they found with Apollo VIII (I think). To end up in the same place in the same orbit, starting in the same orbit, the trailing capsule had to actually slow down, dropping to a lower orbit, speed back up to circular satellite speed, catch up with the lead capsule, accelerate to gain altitude, then slow back down to circular satellite speed for that orbit. Hitting something with any speed is more difficult. Even coming at it head on...I'm just not sure how easy it can be done. The USAF had an ASAT program back in the 80s that was launched from a fighter, but to my knowledge, we're the only country with guidance systems able to make the rendezvous, and even that had and explosive warhead, as I recall, obviating the need for a direct hit.

    It's just not as simple as all those space movies have led us to believe.


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