Space Cold War

Posted by Sam Churchill on

“Maybe we’re at war with Norway.” — The Thing

Last January 11, a missile launched from China’s Xichang Space Center destroyed a satellite 537 miles above the Earth’s surface. Although the target was a weather satellite belonging to China itself, the act rattled the U.S. space establishment.

Flight controllers at NASA had to maneuver the Terra environmental spacecraft in June to avoid orbital debris created from the Chinese A-Sat test.

Geoffrey Forden, an MIT research associate and a former UN weapons inspector and strategic weapons analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, examines the possibilities of an all-out Chinese assault on American satellites. Here are parts two and three.

The oldest piece of space junk is nearly 50 years old — it’s debris from the first successful U.S. satellite, Vanguard 1, launched March 17, 1958.

The World Policy Institute (pdf) says some of the space weapons under planning or development include:

  • Micro-satellites, like the XSS-11 can stalk and destroy satellites of other nations
  • The Evolutionary Air and Space Global Laser Engagement (EAGLE) project, a series of orbiting mirrors to direct beams from ground- or air-based lasers at targets in space
  • The ground-based Kinetic Energy Anti-Satellite Weapon, which could shoot down satellites with missiles, along with the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a missile-defense system that could double as an anti-satellite weapon
  • A reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle capable of delivering 12,000 pounds of payload at a distance of 9,000 nautical miles … in less than two hours. The House and Senate conferees wrote, “Enhancing these capabilities is critical, particularly following the Chinese anti-satellite-weapons demonstration last January.”
  • Hypervelocity Rod Bundles, or “Rods from God,” 20-foot-long, one-foot-diameter tungsten poles (existing only on paper at this point) that would be hurled from low-Earth orbit at 25,000 miles per hour to pulverize “hardened” targets in enemy territory.

Some say the budgets for war-fighting and spying in space add up to almost three times NASA’s budget. The United States accounts for 95 percent the world’s spending on militarization of space, says Alternet, and owns more than half of all military satellites.

Was it coincidental that three GPS-type (Glonass-M) satellites were launched on Christmas day? Here’s Jonathan’s Space Report with a Table of Recent Launches.

      Date UT       Name            Launch Vehicle  Site            Mission    INTL.  
    Nov  1 0051   SAR-Lupe 3 )      Kosmos-3M        Plesetsk LC132/1 Radar      53A
                  AIS        )                                                   53B
    Nov 11 0150   DSP 23            Delta 4H         Canaveral SLC37B Early Warn 54A
    Nov 11 2248   Yaogan 3          Chang Zheng 4C   Taiyuan          Radar      55A
    Nov 14 2206   Skynet 5B   )     Ariane 5ECA      Kourou ELA3      Comms      56B
                  Star One C1 )                                                  56A
    Nov 17 2239   Sirius 4          Proton-M/Briz-M  Baykonur LC200/39 Comms     57A
    Dec  9 0015   Kosmos-2434       Proton-M/Briz-M  Baykonur LC81/24  Comms     58A
    Dec  9 0231   Cosmo 2           Delta 7420-10    Vandenberg SLC2W  Radar     59A
    Dec 10 2205   USA 198 (NROL-24) Atlas V 401      Canaveral SLC41   Comms?    60A
    Dec 14 1317   Radarsat-2        Soyuz-FG/Fregat  Baykonur LC31     Radar     61A
    Dec 20 2004   GPS 57 (USA 199)  Delta 7925       Canaveral SLC17A  Nav       62A
    Dec 21 2141   Rascom-QAF-1 )    Ariane 5GS       Kourou ELA3       Comms     63A?
                  Horizons 2   )                                       Comms     63D
    Dec 23 0712   Progress M-62     Soyuz-U          Baykonur LC1      Cargo     64B
    Dec 25 1932   Kosmos-2435?)     Proton-M/DM-2    Baykonur LC81/24  Nav       65A
                  Kosmos-2436?)                                        Nav       65B
                  Kosmos-2437?)                                        Nav       65C

    A Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS), may have been launched a few weeks ago, providing early warning of ballistic missile launches and support of other missions. It comes in highly elliptical orbit (HEO) and GEO flavors.

    Meanwhile, a countdown is under way for the second attempt to launch a Thuraya satellite phone plaform for the United Arab Emirates. Thuraya handsets have a dual-mode feature that allows them to operate in the Thuraya satellite network and GSM terrestrial mobile networks. It is scheduled for a Tuesday liftoff from Sea Launch.

    Here’s the Thuraya 3 team preparing the Sea Launch Commander.

    I always look forward to the annual Pacific Telecommunications Conference, held mid January in Hawaii, since it generally seems to meet right in the middle of a major satellite or transoceanic fiber disaster.

    Meanwhile, the asteroid that was previously believed to have a decent chance of hitting Mars later this month will almost certainly miss the strike zone after all. NASA hopes to find about 90% of the largest asteroids that could potentially strike Earth, by the end of this year. These asteroids can be as large as mountains but are at least 1 kilometer (3,280.8 feet) in diameter. NASA estimates that 900 of these objects are in potentially hazardous range of Earth.

    NASA’s Messenger (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft will make the first extraterrestrial visit to Mercury in almost 33 years when it zooms by the barren planet on Monday, January 14. Messenger’s long-term goal is to orbit Mercury, but that won’t happen until 2011 after it makes several orbits of the sun and three close encounters with the planet, reports C/Net.

    Researchers are also preparing to explore Europa’s surface and ultimately into its ocean. Their testbed is under the Antarctic.

    Russian and British scientists discovered the existence of Lake Vostok, some 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) beneath Vostok Station in the Antarctic, 12 years ago. The lake contains liquid water under the three-kilometer thick icecap, promising to be the most unspoiled lake on Earth. Cores samples suggest the lake has been sealed under the icecap for up to a million years.

    Next month they’re sending down a Cryobot.

    Along with Mars, Europa offers one of the best opportunities in the solar system for finding extraterrestrial life. “That’s why this is so important,” said Bill Stone, head of Austin-based Stone Aerospace (TED video).

    Stone, Bigelow and Rutan are the disaffected pioneers. They’ll be followed by bureaucrats and lawyers. Life on Europa doesn’t stand a chance.

    Related DailyWireless articles include; Video from Arctic, Antartic Communications, Chinese Destroy Satellite – Create Space Debris Field, Dark Week in Space, Space Capsule, Software Radios in Space, Satellite Jam, Advanced EHF – Wait for It and Pacific Telecommunication Council: 007.

    Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, January 11th, 2008 at 9:23 am .

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