Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bullseye

From the New York Times:
Completing a mission in which an interceptor designed for missile defense was used for the first time to attack a satellite, the Lake Erie, an Aegis-class cruiser, fired a single missile just before 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, and the missile hit the satellite as it traveled at more than 17,000 miles per hour, the Pentagon said in its official announcement.
 
This is a beautiful story on so many counts.
 
1. We have kick-ass spy satellites that are so advanced, that we really really don't want the debris of a broken one to fall into the wrong hands.  If anyone is going to have spy satellites this cool, it had better be us.
 
2. We have kick-ass missiles that can shoot down spy satellites if we need to (even ours!). 
 
3. Well, we needed to.  And we did.  In one shot.  Ever hear baseball players bloviate about how hard it is to hit a major league fastball?  You can see where I'm going with this one.
 
The beauty here is that we got to do this for the right reasons.  Public safety was the main line - don't want anyone to get a frozen hydrazine fuel tank landing in their yard.  Not acknowledged, but most obviously, we had to do this because we have a real need to protect our secret spy technology.  The real beauty comes in the side effect.  While the cover story leads with our more noble motives, what we've actually just said to every other country in the world: Look, don't mess with us.  We know where all your satellites are, and we can take 'em out whenever we feel like it. 
 
Take that. 
 
Come to think of it, have we ever gone to war against a country that has satellites?  I guess the point is to not go to war against an advanced enemy.  It's better to just intimidate.  Meanwhile, this whole episode means nothing to any the people who have been killing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

4 comments:

  1. I'm not sure how accurate point #1 is. Given that this satellite has to fall 20,000+ miles through the atmosphere, wouldn't the heat of re-entry vaporize most of its electronics?

    >> We know where all your satellites are, and we can take 'em out whenever we feel like it.
    Of course, you know about this: http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/space/01/18/china.missile/index.html

    >>Come to think of it, have we ever gone to war against a country that has satellites?
    Don't think so. Iran would be a first :-P

    ReplyDelete
  2. Also, from the CNN story above:
    In its own test, the U.S. military knocked a satellite out of orbit in 1985.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, thanks for the info, Umesh. The fact that China has had successful tests too basically says we are both mutually intimidating. It makes me think - historically in the US, war has been good for the economy. Mostly because the government spends a lot of money domestically, and, with the exception of 1812, Pearl Harbor and 9/11, all of our stateside property stays intact. A war between two superpowers would be devastating, even if it were not nuclear. Imagine what would happen to the US economy if we suddenly lost all of our commercial communications sattelites.

    ReplyDelete
  4. >> Imagine what would happen to the US economy if we suddenly lost all of our commercial communications sattelites.
    The good news there is that spy (and remote sensing) satellites like the ones shot down recently orbit the sky in LEO (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_Earth_orbit)
    while communications satellites are Geosynchronous and orbit at significantly higher altitudes - 100s of miles vs 10000s of miles. So, it's much harder to hit the comm satellites. Hitting all of them, even harder. I'm sure there's some military guide somewhere with plans on doing that, but this test doesn't necessarily imply that it's possible.

    ReplyDelete