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Space United States

The United States Space Arsenal 297

ntmokey writes "When China tested a missile on its own satellite in January, the nation's aggressive statement immediately raised eyebrows among the world's other space-faring nations. Popular Mechanics looks at the implications of a conflict in space — including debris that could render space unusable for decades — and examines the United States' own space arsenal."
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The United States Space Arsenal

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  • I think you mean (Score:5, Informative)

    by Inoshiro ( 71693 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:01PM (#19671031) Homepage
    The United States' Space Arsenal.

    It really makes no sense for one state to be united.
  • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:16PM (#19671123) Journal
    space tethers take care of larger space junk see here: .asp?NewsNum=264 []

    but could they send up a satellite to look for some debris and zap it with a laser to vaporize it?
    nice idea but think about how precise you would need to be to take out chunks the size of a pebble spaced out [they are not clumps anymore they drift] from anywhere with any efficiency without blinding higher satellites.

    What happens if we set of a nuke in the upper atmosphere?
    This: _explosion []
  • Re:USA tests (Score:2, Informative)

    by LabRat ( 8054 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:44PM (#19671341)
    we would call it history [] We yanks have had the demonstrated ability to shoot down satellites for more than 20 years.

    What's shocking about the Chinese effort is that most folks tend to underestimate them in the progress they've made in their space program. What they don't take into account is that they are able to stand on the shoulders of giants...they won't need nearly as much time to develop theirs as we did since most of the "hard work" of basic designs and calcs has already been done and is readily available in textbooks. All it takes is money and will at this point...something they have plenty of due to the trade imbalance and their desire to be taken seriously as a world power.
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:5, Informative)

    by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @11:00PM (#19671437) Homepage
    I happen to know several people who were on the citizen's committee that came up with the idea. The whole point was for it to look like something we just might be able to pull off so that the Soviet Union would have no choice but to try to copy it and bankrupt themselves in the process. You see, we could afford to build all that stuff, provided we could get it to work, but they couldn't. When they tried, it brought their creaky economy crashing down, and their government soon followed. Believe or not, I don't care, but the people I know who were involved in the planning all tell the same story.
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @11:17PM (#19671519)

    There are no land formations to hide behind, and no air resistance to slow down projectiles, which is why satellites can be taken down without bothering to mount explosive warheads on the missiles (it's my understanding that is why they are called "kinetic kill vehicles").
    Nope. The reason why missiles have explosives on them is because a direct hit is very difficult to achieve. What's more likely to hit a bird flying by, a solid slug or a pellet spray from a shotgun? With proximity-fused weapons (cannon shells, missiles) the idea is that the weapon is not likely to hit the target but will pass very close. The proximity system uses radio waves to detect the object and will explode the weapon the moment the range increases. To show the likelihood of a direct hit, the Air Force would conduct live fire exercises with real missiles against real drone targets like remotely controlled F-4's. The training missiles had the warheads removed. Most missiles would pass within proper kill proximity of the drone and very few would actually strike it, causing damage.

    Newer missile designs are becoming accurate enough that the warhead can be dispensed with, the impact of the weapon alone will be sufficient. The Brits have found their smart bombs so accurate, they are replacing the actual bomb with a concrete casting, leaving the guidance system and fins the same. This kind of weapon can be used to plink tanks in civilian areas. 2 tons of concrete dropped on a tank from 10,000 feet means no more tank, an explosion would be overkill at that point. It also means that you can hit a tank sitting outside a school and not even break the windows. That's a win for any civilians unlucky enough to be nearby.

    As for space weapons, the insane velocities involved with orbital speeds is what also makes an explosive redundant. A fleck of urine almost took out the cockpit window on a previous shuttle flight. Nothing is likely to survive the impact of a kinetic kill vehicle, assuming the defense contractors can get the thing to hit without having to rig the demo.
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @11:37PM (#19671635)
    We did a lot of this sort of thing, like intentionally leaking information about incredible technology that we had developed (but we thought was impossible to make), but was the kind of thing the Soviets would spend a whole bunch of money on to keep up.

    In some cases, it backfired, and the Soviets came up with creative ways to develop technology that we were only pretending we had. I wish I could think of a specific example, but it slips my mind at the moment.

  • Re:USA tests (Score:2, Informative)

    by LabRat ( 8054 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @12:12AM (#19671887)
    Heh, no. There are no air-to-air missiles in the U.S. inventory with enough energy to do it "accidentally"...the AIM-54 (phoenix) would be the only one that would *remotely* have a snowball's chance in hell of making it that high, and you'd have to put the plane into a ballistic profile at max attainable altitude to do it..hardly an "accidental" scenario. Even then, there's no way the phoenix would have enough umph to go the additional 100+ miles straight up (I'd have to do the calcs to figure it's max altitude, and I'm feeling lazy tonight...but since it only has a max *horizontal* range of a little over 100 miles it's pretty clear that traveling 100 miles vertically against gravity isn't going to happen)...especially considering it only has aerodynamic surfaces for guidance so there'd be no way for it to maintain course at extreme altitude and would corkscrew wildly like an inflated balloon that's been let go to fly about the room while the solid booster was burning. Not to mention the F-14 (the only plane that carried the missile) doesn't have an optimal thrust/weight ratio that would provide best initial energy to the missile. The YF-12 was to carry a predecessor phoenix called the AIM-47 that had a bit longer range, but it's basically the same story besides the fact that both were very short-lived projects. The Soviets, on the other hand, had a couple of missiles that might have come closer...the ones that were designed to kill the SR-71. A decent write-up on several of these missiles can be found here [] though I haven't cross-checked all the facts for accuracy.

    Instead, I think you are referring to the ASAT tests conducted by the Air Force using a F-15 in the 1980's (I linked it in my post above, but here it is again: [] ). That was a specially-made missile for the task..and its success was no accident.
  • by BillGatesLoveChild ( 1046184 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @12:14AM (#19671911) Journal
    David Parnas, a Software Scientist, who formerly served on SDI Committees and who had no moral qualms about death and destricion ended up quitting SDI and debunking it when he realized the whole program wasn't plausible and a huge waste. It still isn't BTW, but politicians don't get science: billions of dollars regularly flushed down the toilet after it. rs/parnas_acm_85.pdf [] / []
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @12:23AM (#19671981) Homepage
    Nice way to not address the poster's points, and instead resort to rhetoric.

    The Soviet Union collapsed because of a coup, a radically reformist government, and breakaway republics. The Soviet Union's economic might declined radically from the sixties to the eighties. The Soviets themselves recognized this and wrote about this. It's one of the main issues that brought Gorbachev to power. There was already wide discontent because their industrial production couldn't provide their people the sort of standard of life that the west's did, because of widespread corruption, repression, and so forth. Soviet military spending during Reagan didn't even match their inflation rate. After the 1982 Afghanistan disaster, Andropov made it an economic strategy to disengage from foreign conflict. The big military expenditure boosts in the late Soviet Union's history were the waste that was Afghanistan and their two-way Cold War with China as well as America (largely because the two couldn't agree on what was the "right" form of Communism).

    Here's an article [] from 1991, published in International Affairs, analyzing the (already circulating) claim that the US military spending increase caused an increase in Soviet military spending, bringing about the country's downfall. The full article isn't online but you can read the abstract.
  • by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @12:31AM (#19672045) Journal
    > so if china does it it's shocking, i wonder what it'd be called if you yanks did it

    Successful. If by "you yanks" you mean the US Air Force. They launched the Vought ASM-135A ASAT against a "retired communications satellite" from an F-15 in 1985 and killed it. Note this was an air launched weapon (the "could this be next?" question on the article), not rocket launched as was the Chinese weapon.

    If by "you yanks" you mean the US scientists who were at the time using the Solwind research satellite that the USAF actually shot down, I suppose it'd be called "what the fuck happened to our satellite?", until they figured out what happened. At that point it probably became "what the fuck did you do that to our satellite for?"

    Since the official story is still that they shot down a retired communications satellite, rather than acknowledging the actual kill (the answer to the above questions being essentially "What satellite? Shut the fuck up."), we've no way to know if they missed their target and the ASAT locked onto Solwind by mistake, or if they just took out a target of opportunity that wouldn't cost them anything. Both are disturbing in their own way.

    There's also no word on how much debris was created by Solwind's destruction. The US Space Surveillance Network knows they answer, but they're not saying. They are, after all, operated primarily by the USAF.

    Although the ASM-135A ASAT project was cancelled soon after the Solwind kill, there's no reason to expect the USAF stopped ASAT development. The ASM-135A was built from an AGM-69 SRAM and Vought Scout B fourth stage (a Thiokol Altair III motor). These had both been operational for more than a decade when they put the ASAT together. They could have used much newer and more powerful, already operational hardware the very next day, taking it off the active armament shelf, bypassing the messy PR problem of using a defense contractor directly and so having to admit they launched something. The Vought project proved the feasibility based on older hardware. The US military doesn't readily let go of a proven idea they deem necessary unless it has something better to replace it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2007 @12:46AM (#19672135)
    First off, no one knew that China was going to do it. Not even most of the politicians in China. They were as shocked as the rest of the world. There are many stories of Chinese ambassadors being called in to explain what happened with their only answer being, "I don't know." Normally they are briefed on these things so that when/if it happens they can give answers. Effectively, the military was able to hide this operation from the rest of the government. A rather frightening development from a country pushing 'responsible expansion'.

    Another major concern was derbies. This one incident has put more space junk in orbit then any other single activity. This has annoyed pretty much any country that has anything in space. Japan, Russia, India, EU, US, EVERYONE. The fact that they were willing to do something like that with out consideration for even their allies is more then a little concerning.

    Truth be told though, the actual shooting down of the satellite wasn't that big of a deal. They intentionally maneuvered an old weather satellite into a path that they could hit, then moved it again during the test because their launch missed. So it was more like of a 'rendezvous' operation then a 'shoot them down' operation. That is still no small feat, but it was hardly the resounding success that all the noise would lead you to think it was.
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2007 @02:21AM (#19672565)
    > We did a lot of this sort of thing, like intentionally leaking information about incredible technology that we had developed (but we thought was impossible to make), but was the kind of thing the Soviets would spend a whole bunch of money on to keep up.
    > In some cases, it backfired, and the Soviets came up with creative ways to develop technology that we were only pretending we had. I wish I could think of a specific example, but it slips my mind at the moment.

    Here's one. "Hi, watchers! Even though the story's been in the public domain for years, if you're reading this, your automated filters are just barely better than I thought!"

    Never mind the military tech, how about the civilian tech? Your economy's in shambles, and the capitalist pig-dogs' economy isn't. You have lotsa oil in the ground, but no way to get it where it's needed. Hmm. Capitalists seem to do pretty good have lots of pipelines to cold and frozen place where they do have oil. So you tell Boris Badenov to go steal Yankee pipelineski info.

    Somewhere in Yankeestan, top Yankee spy-dude (with total wankstain of a son) signs off on plan that says "Hey, if Boris wants plans for our industrial tech, I'm sure we can arrange for him to find some!"

    Boris Badenov steals plans for pipelines/pumps/control systems. Russkies spend gazillions of rubles on massive project, flip switch to "on". Some time later, anybody in orbit over Siberia gets to see history's largest non-nuclear fireworks display as the whole thing explodinates. Yankee spy-dudes giggle knowingly. Russkies took bait hook, line, sinker.

    Top Yankee spy-dude's wankstain son says he wants his Dad's job when he grows up. Well, fuck, we couldn't win 'em all. Wouldn't surprise me if 20 years from now, we hear about how some former Russkie top-spy-dude was laughing his ass off at how we fell for that!

  • Re:Star Wars (Score:5, Informative)

    by olman ( 127310 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @03:33AM (#19672915)
    The Soviet Union collapsed because of a coup, a radically reformist government, and breakaway republics. The Soviet Union's economic might declined radically from the sixties to the eighties. The Soviets themselves recognized this and wrote about this. It's one of the main issues that brought Gorbachev to power. There was already wide discontent because their industrial production couldn't provide their people the sort of standard of life that the west's did, because of widespread corruption, repression, and so forth. Soviet military spending during Reagan didn't even match their inflation rate.

    That's doubleplus good doublespeak you have there, comrade.

    First off, soviet economy was about to "collapse" late sixties already but they were bailed out by the oil crisis. Yeah. They ran the circus for additional 20 years with the oil income when the crude prices quadrupled due to the middle east oil czars getting their act together. Economic collapse is not quite that straightforward in the planned economy either as the value of goods was strictly controlled by the goverment. In any case sovs economy was in better shape late 70s than late 60s, cf age of stagnation in Brezhnev era. Interestingly enough to soviet citizens this may be the "golden era" since the system "worked" at that time.

    As for military spend. GROWTH may not have exceeded their inflation rate, but so what? First off, the real inflation value was astronomical due to the central banks printing money with prices of goods fixed by the goverment. Yeah, you may have got cheap shoes from the shops but the tricky bit was finding the shop that actually had any shoes. Secondly, USSR military spending of their GDP was huge. See for reference the soviet tank production figures and other conventional munitions.. They could have fairly easily overrun NATO in 70s and 80s (Please, no red storm rising fantasies here. Yes, Leo 2A4 is much better tank than T-72, but if you have 10x the numbers in strategic reserve in one side, you can concentrate them on 1:100 numbers locally) if not for the pesky first strike and the whole mutually assured destruction-deal. So mainly soviets were exceeding military production combined NATO countries with economy that was basically crap. Doesn't leave much room for decent consumer goods production there. Plus, well, since prices were goverment sanctioned and there was waiting list of years for the crappy car, what for improve the product?!
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:3, Informative)

    by coaxial ( 28297 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @04:19AM (#19673127) Homepage

    What happened ? It worked. It broke the economy of the Soviet Union.
    My god! That's some Cold War Reagan is Genius bullshit.

    SDI was laughable at the time, because the fundamental problems of Rods for God, Brilliant Pebbles, space and ground based lasers, and kinetic kill vehicles were unsolvable at the time, and easily defeated by incredibly inexpesive counter-measures (everything from mylar baloon decoys, to liquid nitrogen jackets, to -- my personal favorite -- simply detonating one warhead in space, and then sending the rest through. Most importantly to this conversation, is that the Soviet Union realized this, and so did NOTHING!

    The idea that Gorbechev ramped up military spending to counter the perceived threat from SDI is simply untrue. The Soviet Union's military spending growth held steady at 1.3% per year since 1975. In 1985, spending increased to 4.3% per year for two years. During the growth, offsenive strategic weapon spending only grew at 1.4%. By 1988, the Soviet defense budget had dropped to 1980 levels. Meanwhile, the Reagan instituted the largest peastime military spending in history, growing the DOD at 8% per year, leading to the largest budget deficits and national debt in the history of the United States. [] In the words of Rush Limbaugh, "Reagan left us a debt we can never repay."

    So, what caused the collapse of the Soviet Union? Simple. The economy collapsed -- completely unexpected by the West mind you -- due to structural deficencies in the command economy of the Soviet Union. The American Enterprise Institute (hardly a "leftist" organization) recently outlined [] the economic collapse of the USSR. Far from being the imminent threat and the power hourse conservatives were saying the Soviet Union was, the Soviet Union was falling apart as early as the 1970s. They produced no finished goods, save for weapons, that could be sold on the world market. Instead they relied on selling raw materials, most importantly oil. The Soviet economy was on the virge of collapse since the 1970s, however whenever the situation looked the most dire, the oil market managed pickup just in time, and bail them out. Eventually, their luck ran out.

    If you want to thank anyone for the West winning the Cold War without firing a shot, thank Josef Stalin. His nationalization of the agricultural sector of the Soviet economy set the country on the course to ruin.

  • by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @06:50AM (#19673867) Journal
    > This story is complete horseshit. [blahblah] ml []

    Sure it is. Now. See also []

    22 years ago it wasn't. Solwind was still downlinking data when it poofed. [] I got the story from Astronomy magazine at the time.

    It was taking a lot of work to keep it synched, but USAF (its original owner) had not shut it down. []

    Usually very complete with their data, Vought is rather mute about it, naming the sat only by its designator. ml/asat.html []

    Makes you wish they'd get their horse shit straight.

    I was wrong about one thing. The debris from Solwind was tracked and the data made available. 250 pieces. One almost hit ISS 8 years ago. [] So if the US says pieces of the Chinese test might hit ISS, we can assume they're correct because they have experience in these things.

  • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @07:13AM (#19673967)
    " the rate their military spending is going it wont be long before they actually out pace us [if not already]..."

    That turns out not to be the case. tary-report_n.htm []

    Note that the USA spent about $529 billion on armaments in 2006, whereas China spent nearly $50 billion - maybe 9 percent as much, 9.5 percent at most. When you bear in mind that China has about four times as many people as the USA, the disparity becomes even more glaring. At least the USA no longer spends more on arms than the rest of the world combined. In 2006 it contributed a mere 46% of the world total.

    As one reader of US Today's article ("The Mick") points out: "The United States spends $40 per person on defense for every $1 China does. I don't see why China's spending is such a big deal particularly because it not only has a large land mass to defend, but it borders on near-lawless Afghanistan and a few near-lawless former members of the Soviet Union".
  • by Weedlekin ( 836313 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @07:44AM (#19674155)
    "Look at tank armor some time. You get a long ways with thickness and deflection"

    This used to the case with thickness, but deflection has never been used. The reason sloped tank armour replaced flat planes was because it prevents a thicker cross section to an incoming projectile, and not (as many seem to believe) because it has any deflection value against high speed projectiles. Modern tank armour on the other hand is a series of almost flat planes, much like that of WWII tank armour, although for very different reasons.

    Modern tanks basically face three types of threats (from other tanks and infantry -- the likes of hellfire missiles are beyond the scope of this topic): high-energy anti-tank (HEAT), high-explosive squash head (HESH), and APDS (armour-piercing discarding sabot, i.e. long-rod kinetic energy penetrators). Each works differently, so armour incorporates several different mechanisms, each of which is specifically designed to counter one of these.

    1) HEAT rounds use plasma jets to burn their way through armour (the classic RPG uses this system). There are four possible counters:
    a) Spacing. Armour has multiple air spaces in the hope that the jet will consume some layers, leaving the rest intact. It isn't very effective against modern HEAT rounds, but is still much better than a solid layer of equal thickness.

    b) Stand-off plates / cages. These have been used for years to protect tank wheels from older, less powerful infantry HEAT weapons, and appeared on the bodies of the less heavily armoured German tanks during WWII. Some infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) in the current Iraq conflict carry "cage" versions, proving that it's still effective against weapons that don't carry tandem-charge warheads.

    c) Explosive-reactive armour (ERA). Tanks are covered with small explosive-filled boxes with a metal face-plate. The plasma jet detonates the explosive, and the face plat is thrown laterally in its path to consume it. Not effective against tandem-charge warheads.

    d) Ceramic pyramids that remain solid at extremely high temperatures are set inside the armour to dissipate the jet. This is the mechanism used by "Chobham" armour (originally a British design, hence the name); it is effective even against tandem charges, but is extremely costly to manufacture, and also very heavy.

    2) HESH. This round flattens against the surface of the tank, and then detonates into the armour, sending a shock wave through it that causes the inner surface of the vehicle to "spall" (i.e. become shrapnel that ricochets around inside it, turning the crew into human sushi). It's fairly easily defeated by a combination of spaced armour and spall liners, which are layers of adhesive plastics on the inside surface of the armour. For this reason, it's primarily used against infantry fighting vehicles nowadays, whose thinner armour has little room for effective air spacing, and therefore spalls very well indeed.

    3) APDS / APFSDS. A sabot is used to carry a long, thin, extremely heavy penetrator rod with a point that converts its considerable kinetic energy into very high pressures and temperatures where both the rod and armour become fluids (a process that's analogous to squirting a jet of water into a bucket of oil). The length of the rod must be more or less that same as the armour it's intended to penetrate because the solid rear moves "through" the liquid front (which loses kinetic energy rapidly), becoming liquid itself in the process. A rod that's too short will therefore simply "bore" a hole in the armour, leaving a "hot spot" on the inside that would be likely to burn anyone who touches it rather badly, but has no other effect. Note that DU penetrators are also pyrophoric, i.e. they burn inside the armour in addition to becoming liquid (sintered tungsten doesn't do this, and is also more prone to shatter than DU, although it's far less toxic to both tank crews and the post-battle environment). It can be countered in two ways, both of which are present in the best modern composite ar
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:3, Informative)

    by ender81b ( 520454 ) <billd AT inebraska DOT com> on Thursday June 28, 2007 @01:03PM (#19677841) Homepage Journal
    That wasn't just the USSR's idea. The United States also had a functional ABM system operating on the same principle - using Nike Zues (or Nike X) rockets with a few kiloton warhead strapped on top. I don't believe it got deployed anywhere but Guam however.

    The USSR's system was called Galosh, or A35 []. The missile was in operational use around Moscow from 1971 on. It has since been replaced, although by what I don't know. I think the Gorgon but I could be wrong. The system was only used to protect Moscow as per the terms of the 1972 ABM treaty.

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