Ballistic Missile Defence and the Peaceful use of Space

Since the 1980’s one of the biggest controversies among space supporters has been Ballistic Missile Defence. Both sides have argued passionately for years, but the first generations of ABM systems are now being deployed amid controversy. Its not my intention to get involved in that debate here. What I want to do is point out that for completely pragmatic reasons, there is not going to be a hopeful future in Space without BMD.

What I, and I think most people here, want to see is major expansion of human activities into Space. We want to see Solar Power Satellites, Space tourism, bases and colonies on the Moon and planets, asteroid mining and the rest of it. That means lots of Space traffic which means a requirement for Space Traffic Control. The closest we have to STC today is NORAD, That organization can provide warning of missile attacks and can catalog satellites,but it does not provide proper STC. It can takes weeks for NORAD to be aware a satellite has changed its orbit, and considerable time before the spacecraft can be relocated. There is a clear requirement for proper Space Situational Awareness, a system of knowing what exactly is happening in Earth orbit. One of the leading proponents of SSA is General James B Armor, USAF (Ret) who’s interview on the Space Show is well worth listening to.

The need for STC becomes even more urgent with the advent of point to point sub-orbital travel. As the late G Harry Stine pointed out orbital velocities are the fastest way to travel as any point on Earth can be reached under an hour. That open up a major commercial market, and a major danger. Imagine; the 10.45 sub orbital has just taken of for its 20 minute flight from Beijing to Los Angles . How do we know its not a nuclear tipped missile? Or that it won’t crash into the middle of the city? A wayward rocketplane hitting the Earth at orbital speeds is going to leave a big hole. Also a ballistic rocket will need to be sure theres a place for it to land at the other end, it can’t turn back.

Currently countries have to inform the UN after a space launch. That just won’t do with commercial rocket travel. A flight plan will need to be lodged with the STC and take off can only occur when permission is given. If a rocketplane wanders away from its approved trajectory Space Traffic Controllers will have few choices. The vehicle can not turn back , it either adjusts its flight VERY quickly or the Anti Ballistic Missile system will have to destroy it. Considering that a decision will need to be made in a matter of minutes I expect the ABM system to be highly automated. Probably the military will operate STC but it may move to the civilian sector in time. But the missile ABM defence will need to remain with the military.

Like it or not peaceful Space needs missile defence. Safety will demand it.

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3 Responses to “Ballistic Missile Defence and the Peaceful use of Space”


  1. 1 pdq May 14, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    You have lost grip of your senses.

  2. 2 Anonymous May 19, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    No, I agree with him. I seem to remember some British pacifist literature that condemed the construction of Spitfires and other fighter planes.Some of the same arguements used against missile defense were used.The Germans would just build more bombers and attacks were worse–or how such defenses were de-stabilizing, or what not.My problem is with ground based missile defense. A surface vessel trying to maneuver violently against supercavitating torpedos is hardly a stable platform–and will likely be sunk before ICBM launch.Ground based missile defense batteries effective against North Korea would otherwise have to be based in Vladivostok–unlikely.It is still a tail chase with hard accelerating solids racing behind more efficent liquid ICBMs that are becoming more and more prolific over time.Space-based, Ares V launched platforms can defend themselves–and perhaps strike ground targets.Which is why the Air Force and other branches of the military will hate a new Space force branch.If I can snipe targets with a lser–or use thunder rods–why do I need carrier groups anymore? Or as many fighters or bombers.We need a space version of Billy Mitchell.

  3. 3 Ralph Buttigieg June 10, 2008 at 9:25 am

    G’day,If you think I’m nuts can you please do me the courtesy of explaining why?taRalph


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