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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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  • Star Wars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nlitement ( 1098451 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:00PM (#19671023)
    Whatever happened to the Strategic Defense Initiative?
  • not a threat....yet (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mastershake_phd ( 1050150 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:03PM (#19671047) Homepage
    Most spacecraft -- including spy sats -- are in low Earth orbit, which stretches 1240 miles into space. As the Chinese test proved, such targets could be hit with medium-range missiles tipped with crude kill devices. GPS satellites are far higher, orbiting at about 12,600 miles. Many communications sats are in the 22,000-mile range. Destroying them requires a much more powerful and sophisticated long-range ballistic missile

    Most of the strategic targets are in a much safer place, sure they could easily knock out our spy satellites, but there are alternatives to those.
  • by nebaz ( 453974 ) * on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:08PM (#19671083)
    What I'd like to know is what can we do to clean up the space junk that is already up there? I know eventually everything will burn up in the atmosphere, but that could take hundreds of years. Maybe I've watched a few too many Sci-Fi shows, but could they send up a satellite to look for some debris and zap it with a laser to vaporize it?
    What happens if we set of a nuke in the upper atmosphere? Will debris be vaporized? Would it cause other problems? Maybe I'm just being naive, but I think we need to think about this.

    P.S. Space Roomba?
  • by jihadist ( 1088389 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:40PM (#19671317) Homepage Journal

    Right now the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Eurasia and Asia are jockeying for who will be the next big power, the next Pax Romanum of the modern world.

    It's clear to everyone but Americans that the USA will become a cross between Brazil, Mexico and Russia, e.g. dysfunctional, within the next 25 years, and so a successor is needed.

    No one wants to acknowledge this little war of ours on earth, but we're getting ready with spying [yahoo.com], infowar [cnn.com] and infoterror units [infoterror.com], military hacking units [nytimes.com] and of course virtual realities [theregister.co.uk].

    Who's going to win? Whoever can stop playing pussyfoot and acknowledge the goal first, of course. My money is on the Chinese or Europeans.

  • Re:USA tests (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ErikZ ( 55491 ) * on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:40PM (#19671319)
    "Today the United States blew up one of it's satellite creating an expanding cloud of debris. It's purpose was to show to the world it's military might and not to fuck around with them."

    Yeah, I think shocking would cover it.
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @10:54PM (#19671409)
    I forget the name but it was written years and years ago. It's from the perspective of a young canadian watching the first return trip to space since WWIII. He thinks back to how things were before the war, the assumptions made around the globe. The US and USSR were so intent on mutually annihilating each other that no concern was given to any other nation, including the one most of the warheads would be flying over. The Canadians developed a secret WWIII plan. Special tunnels were carved into mountains, angled at the trajectories the missiles would be sure to follow over the pole. Gigantic atom bombs were created in a secret program. These bombs were placed at the bottom of the tunnels and the intervening space was filled with aerodynamic shrapnel. When the button was finally pushed and the missiles flew on their way, the Canadians pressed a button of their own. Their bombs went off and powered what were essentially giant shotguns, blasting debris into unstable orbits. The blast destroyed most of the warheads in the first exchange and continued to remove large fractions of each subsequent exchange. There was a bit of luck with bombers being more vulnerable to interception than prewar doctrine had anticipated with the net result being both sides running out of weapons before civilization was destroyed.

    So our narrator is watching the first rocket trying to get back into space in the twenty years since the war. The night sky is still full of shooting stars as the debris comes back down into the atmosphere. All but the highest of the pre-war satellites were destroyed and nothing new has been able to survive making it through the shrapnel cloud. The thought is that most of it will deorbit in the next hundred or so years. The hope is that armored rockets might be able to survive impacts. The narrator sees this new rocket struck by debris and destroyed, the astronauts lost along with it. Mankind survived the war but lost space in the process.

    The story probably isn't as scientifically accurate as one could hope but it still has emotional impact, an visceral truthiness.
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @11:06PM (#19671459)

    What happened ? It worked. It broke the economy of the Soviet Union. Of course, the technology largely didn't work. Like the x-ray space weapon proposed by Edward Teller.
    To elaborate on the previous reply directed your way, read this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_and_Fall_of_ the_Great_Powers [wikipedia.org]

    He compares the Great Powers at the close of the twentieth century and predicts the decline of the Soviet Union (the book was originally published on the cusp of the Soviet collapse, the suddeness of which Kennedy did not predict), the rise of China and Japan, the struggles and potential for the EEC, and the relative decline of the United States. He highlights the precedence of the "four modernizations" in Deng Xiaoping's plans for China--agriculture, industry, science and military--deemphasizing military while the United States and the Soviet Union are emphasizing it. He predicts that continued deficit spending, especially on military build-up, will be the single most important reason for decline of any Great Power.
    If you read the book, you'll see the fact-based analysis showing that the USSR was in serious trouble going into the 80's. As Kennedy describes it, the USSR struggled to support a first-rate military on a third-rate economy. The sorry state of Soviet-style agriculture was telling. A third of the harvest rotted in the field, a third rotted in transit, and a third rotted on the shelves awaiting purchase.

    And before you go promoting Ronnie Raygun as the conqueror of the USSR, read up on Able Archer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Able_archer [wikipedia.org]

    Able Archer 83 was a ten-day NATO exercise starting on November 2, 1983 that spanned the continent of Europe and simulated a coordinated nuclear release.[1] It incorporated a new, unique format of coded communication, radio silences, participation by heads of state, and a simulated DEFCON 1 nuclear alert. The realistic nature of the exercise, coupled with deteriorating relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and the anticipated arrival of Pershing II nuclear missiles in Europe, led some in the USSR to believe that Able Archer 83 was a genuine nuclear first strike.[1][2][3][4] In response, the Soviets readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert.[5][6] This relatively obscure incident is considered by many historians to be the closest the world has come to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.[7] The threat of nuclear war abruptly ended with the conclusion of the Able Archer 83 exercise on November 11, which, coincidentally, was also Armistice Day (alternatively called Remembrance Day).[8][9]
    Reagan was incapable of understanding how the Russians could possibly think we'd plan to shoot first in a nuclear war. "Don't they know we're the good guys?"
  • Future jobs? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ub3rT3Rr0R1St ( 920830 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @11:12PM (#19671491)
    Parting a little from the premise of the article's main idea, I can't help but point this out...

    With the mention of "space debris", making space unusable: Well, wouldn't this give us a brief glimpse into the possible job descriptions of the future? Crews of "space garbagemen" drifting off into the abyss to clean up this debris.

    It seems quite interesting to think about it. What new occupations will arise if space, or another planet were conquered and colonized? Would there be scores of men, eager to become a part of this great new frontier? Will they become unionized?

    We can only speculate.
  • by CNTOAGN ( 1111159 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @11:25PM (#19671569)
    In one of my Aerospace classes we looked at this problem for a semester. Several designs were discussed, and I don't remember the ones that were instantly discarded due to cost, material science inadequacies, and the ability to actually deploy the system.

    The obvious problems are: Space is big - lots of room up there the debris isn't all going in the same direction, they are hauling ass and can't be tracked A good portion of the debris isn't metallic - paint, plastic, even organic (the russians dumped their shit into space for 15 years)

    What we came up with was a 3 tier approach - very strong magnets placed on hardened satellites would act as beacons for roughly 40% of the space junk. Large expandable surfaces (think solar arrays x 100) that were carbon fiber based would act as sweepers catching maybe another 20%, and lastly for satellite protection, you would simply deploy many redundant systems and even dummy systems leading the satellites to catch the severe hits when it is a head on collision.

    One of my professors, who worked at the JPL for many years and retired to teach, said our approach was going in the right direction in what NASA and other space agencies were working on, but the simple fact is, there isn't a solution - unless we invent some magical substance that can take the extreme energies that are generated in 20000 kph impacts even with the extremely low masses of the particles.

    I remember when the Chinese did this 6 months ago - I said, "Thanks assholes - you just dumped a shit load of crap into LEO"

  • Re:Future jobs? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MasamuneXGP ( 824006 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @11:49PM (#19671733)
    Funny you should bring this up. If you're interested in a quite realistic story about the eventual necessity of space debris collecting, you may want to check this out. [animenewsnetwork.com]
  • Re:USA tests (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2007 @01:44AM (#19672403)
    One big difference was the altitude of the test.

    The US ASAT test occurred at an altitude of approximately 530 Km - most of the debris re-entered withing 2-3 years.

    The Chinese ASAT test occurred at roughly 1400 Km - most of that debris will remain up there for decades.

    I don't really attribute this to a greater responsibility on the part of the US - it's simply the altitude band they chose to target due to the interesting stuff that flies there. On the other hand, I have no idea why the Chinese chose such a stupid target.
  • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @02:41AM (#19672663)
    This story is complete horseshit. The target was known weeks in advance. I was actually in the printer room of the ops complex shortly before the test and the guys who ran the spacecraft were certainly well aware of the situation and had all gathered around to watch.

            Moreover, the spacecraft was barely functional enough to maintain despin and a telemetry downlink (which was iffy at best because antenna had degenerated years before). No one was getting much useful data due to multiple failures in the payloads and the tape recorder. It was certainly no accident and there was no comsat that was ever intended or claimed to be the target. In fact, special spacecraft were constructed to act as targets but were never used after the program was ended - due to orbital debris concerns by the USAF. All the debris wa/is cataloged and tracked like all the rest.

    please see: http://www.svengrahn.pp.se/histind/ASAT/F15ASAT.ht ml [svengrahn.pp.se] for a correct, non-hysterical/paranoid story the way it really happened.

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @03:39AM (#19672953)

    Truman was a surprise (though he was very low rated in his day). Sense then they have learned to select better (worse) V.P.s

    Johnson was another exception. Kennedy selected well, no one but a madman or Johnson himself would have considered assassinating JFK. But again lessons were learned, which is why no matter what happens Hillary will not be V.P. No one has that kind of death wish.

  • Re:Future jobs? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AndyboyH ( 837116 ) <Andrew DOT Howat ... er DOT co DOT uk> on Thursday June 28, 2007 @04:05AM (#19673069) Homepage
    mod parent up.

    Planetes is Science Fact in a lot of ways - admittedly the story sometimes goes into the zany (as is necessary to keep an anime about space garbage collectors fun) but for every zany episode, there's 2 or 3 serious, intelligent and sometimes even touching episodes where a lot of actual thought and science has went in - amazingly, it does work really well, and there's very little treknobabble or convenient inventions in sight.

    And, as you see in the anime, space debris does threaten lives.
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ash Vince ( 602485 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @09:28AM (#19674995) Journal
    Actually the USSR version of SDI was likely to be much more effective at protecting the leadership than anything us in the West would come up with.

    Basically the idea as to build a huge centralised bunker under moscow. Then aim loads of nukes at moscow but set them to airburst in the upper atmosphere. This would have created a huge superheated nuclear fallout cloud that would cause any incoming nukes to detonate before they reached the ground. It would probably also have killed people all over Russia and the world when it fell to earth but the Russian leadership would have survived.

    I have just tried searching for some links about this plan but found nothing. I originaly heard about it from some post cold war documentary about Russia's nuclear capability. If anyone else knows anything about it could they post some links?
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by encoderer ( 1060616 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @09:39AM (#19675161)
    Well said. You're exactly right about the oil crises. It just so happened that huge oil reserves were found in Siberia at the same time as global increases in oil prices. This kept them going for a while.

    And you're also right about the huge ratio of military spending to the GDP. And about the T72. I believe this was said best by Stalin: "Quantity has a quality all its own."

    But one thing that you didn't touch on that led to their crippled industrial production is just a horribly inefficient system. For example, steel mills were graded only on their output tonnage, and the commanders of these factories were promoted up the party ranks if they did well. (And you can only imagine what happened to them if they didn't). So you had a common problem of every steel mill creating only 1/2" or 1/4" thick sheeting despite the fact that what the downstream factories really needed was much thinner more pliable steel. So their auto factories, for example, had to mill down the thick steel into a workable dimension before they could use it. (Which also led to cars that were MUCH heavier than their US counterparts, which creates scores of problems in itself).

    Anyone interested in this stuff (and the Soviet collapse in particular) should read Armageddon Averted by Steven Kotkin which looks at the collapse as happening between 1970 and 1990.

    Another interesting tidbit that I remember from the book: In the Soviet Union typewriters were more closely regulated than handguns. You had to register each typewriter with your local government. Just in case anyone ever doubted that the pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword
  • by Grave ( 8234 ) <awalbert88NO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Thursday June 28, 2007 @01:13PM (#19678005)
    See, that's the thing about international politics. China wouldn't attack us in the first place because they know we would wipe them out. Just as we wouldn't attack China because they could do substantial damage to us. The entire point of the nuclear arsenal is that it never has to be used, but it must be understood by all parties that it WILL be used if given no other real option. It's called mutually assured destruction (MAD). As it stands, our military is stretched too thin to take on China conventionally right now, and even if we weren't mired in Iraq, the only thing we could ever do to them would be air and naval strikes. China knows they are safe from ground attack. We would need months to build up enough conventional forces in the region for a land invasion that would pit a few hundred thousand US soldiers against a couple million Chinese soldiers and a few hundred million citizens armed with whatever China is willing to give them.

    As for needing China because of manufacturing, we could always just return millions of jobs to our fellow citizens, pay them decent wages, and be able to purchase higher-quality, untainted products again. Gee, what a novel concept. I don't give a hoot about people having to pay a tiny bit more for their goods, because the overall economic strength of any country is founded on jobs, not imports. Bring back the manufacturing base and watch the middle class recover.
  • Re:Star Wars (Score:3, Interesting)

    by olman ( 127310 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @04:14PM (#19680627)
    Yes, Gorbachev made lots of noises about reforming the way the performance is measured but of course for him it was impossible task with entrenched interests of people who later become the robber baron oligarchs.. Another good example is nails - They were measured by the output weight, so the factory could easiest meet and exceed the quotas by producing only big honking nails that are not really appropriate for most things you'd want to use nails for in the construction or manufacturing industries. And in more refined products such as, say, buckets, they measured performance in units so it was best for the factory to produce small buckets that were not appropriate for most things you'd want to such thing for!

    I believe in essense they wanted a regulated system that'd simulate supply and demand of an open market.. And as the theorists realized the equation cannot work, they naturally decided that the problem is with the people. So enter nonsense about "new socialist man" (or person) who they will educate to behave in a way that makes socialism work.

    As for soviet military industry, they actually did have real outside pressure to produce better products that also reacted to what they manufactured. So probably that's why their arms industry is so much better in comparison to the rest of their industry. For example, Israel demonstrated that F-15 can take on much larger enemy air force comprised of Mig-21s and Mig-23s and sweep the skies.. So they came up with Mig-29 and Su-27 that were really ace products in the 70s.

    Interestingly when India put interest into fielding Su-30 (essentially upgraded Su-27) it took Sukhoi and the indian arms industry ten years to make decent user-friendly avionics package for it. The pilot's user interface if you like.

    here is what they basically started with, user-hostile mess of dials and buttons and controls that are very hard to master - http://www.aeronautics.ru/img002/su30-302-cockpit. jpg [aeronautics.ru]

    And this is what http://www.ausairpower.net/000-Su-30MKI-Fwd-Cockpi t-1S.jpg [ausairpower.net] it evolved to, eventually.

    I suppose the user-friendliness bit didn't really take, they just looked at the performance.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.