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What is the US Space Force likely to do?

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June 24, 2018 by wimvincken

After the cold war, there was one fact: Don’t take on America! The superiority in land-, air- and sea forces was overwhelming in resources, effectiveness, strength and professionalism. It still holds, but not for long.

There are many reasons for that, but I want to mention a few. The management of the armed forces by the previous president Obama was a disaster and ate the effectiveness away from the US armed forces.

The other reason is the introduction and use of several technologies, which changed the earth and is a game changer; the Internet. The Americans call it the cyberspace and they have a hard time to understand what cyberspace actually is, just like all other leaders of countries. The cyberspace is designed not to be controlled by anything or anyone. The authorities, and this includes most of the US government branches, have no idea what cyberspace actually is, and that it’s impossible to defend or dominate it.

Another reason is the politicization of federal agencies, which makes them – at the very least – not effective anymore. And those corrupted agencies are using their resources for ‘playing’ political games instead doing their job.

Another important reason is the ability of others to steal and/or copy military and civil technologies and inventions and to use it themselves. Together with the cyberspace, which allows others to bypass security and do what they want with America’s secrets.

And finally, the last reason is that the Pentagon has focused itself on small-scale weaponry, and ignored the game-changing innovation needed to keep well ahead of military competitors. America’s combat aircraft are 28 years old, on average. Only now is the fleet being recapitalized with the expensive and only semi-stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Together with the fact that the Americans are losing their military superiority, there are other things happening in the world, which are potentially dangerous to cope head-on.

  • China is increasingly keen to press its territorial claims in the western Pacific. Also they are fully in the process of investment in an arsenal of precision short- to medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines equipped with wake-homing torpedoes and long-range anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare, anti-satellite weapons, modern fighter jets, integrated air defenses and sophisticated command, control and communications systems.
  • Russia is intent on re-establishing its influence in what it regards as its “near abroad”, as it has shown in Ukraine. Increasingly, it can deploy similar systems. Iran and North Korea are building A2/AD capabilities too, albeit on a smaller scale than China.
  • North Korea and Iran are also giving serious security problems. Iran especially so with their form of war waging in the Middle East and South America. North Korea with the advanced development of nuclear weapons. Hizbullah in Lebanon and Islamic State in Syria and Iraq are acquiring some of the capabilities that until recently were the preserve of military powers.

America is getting more and more vulnerabilities on the military front.

  1. Carriers and other surface vessels can now be tracked and hit easier by missiles
  2. Aircraft operating at the limits of their combat range would struggle to identify and target mobile missile launchers
  3. Modern air defenses can shoot down non-stealthy aircraft at long distances (think about the SS400 and SS500 systems from the Russians)
  4. Satellites America requires for surveillance and intelligence are no longer safe from attack
  5. Supersonic rockets neutralized all the expensive missiles defense systems

But it’s not the scope of this article to go further in detail about the threats and solutions of the whole military of the US. We are going to focus on the US Space Force and what they are likely going to do.

The US Space Force

Financially, the US Space Force (USSF) doesn’t need anything else then a central organization and to centralize (and reorganize) the currently 60 agencies working in this area. That’s the first step.

Be aware, the space organization NASA cost money. It represents about 0.5% of the United States federal budget. In 2012, it’s $18.4 billion, $20.7 billion in 2018.

  • Logically wise, the first efforts of the new USSF is the defense and attack abilities of the crucial satellites. Applications might be arming certain satellites with laser weapons for defense in case being attacked, new physical shielding applications for the satellites and the introduction of police-agent-satellites, which are able to destroy others in space by various means. This is essential for the protection of America and the rest of the world.
  • Also the introduction of the so called ‘space-drones’, which are little mini-satellites with intelligence and communications and fully automated. Those space-drones might be armed or not, functioning in swarms of hundreds of little drones, if not thousands.
  • Electronic warfare in space is a must. And with space electronic warfare I mean defensive and offensive abilities.
  • The war satellites are heavy duty satellites with multiple weapon platforms for battle in space.
  • The essential part of this type of defense and offense is the construction of factory platforms or space stations, which will be able to produce satellites in various types in record time.
    • It’s expensive and limited to launch satellites from ground to space, so the answer is quite simple and also much cheaper: automated and protected factories in space. Normal, producing in space simple satellites for communications and monitoring is not the problem, the so called police-agent-satellites are also no problems and of course the drones neither.
    • The other class of satellites will be the so called war satellites with multiple functionality and that might be different.

The technologies being required for such undertaking are partly already there. 3D printing is an extremely large and important part of the factories and the construction of the required satellites in a minimum of time with as less as possible resources. Other technologies are already being researched and soon they will be adult enough to be implemented. Laser technologies in space are ready, but the problem currently is the size; but this will be overcome soon too.

With the vast US resources, innovations generating society, the commercial part of the space, it’ll be not a great investment and not a long time before the USSF will be able to implement part of the above in space.

According NASA, the costs of bring resources into space is about $100K for each kilogram of mass, using conventional chemical propulsion. Bringing resources into space in and near earth orbit are about 8 times cheaper at the very least and 20 times cheper for recurring costs.

For more and complete information about planned mining of asteroids, click here (PDF).

Rocket defense rings

Intercontinental rockets have the requirement that it needs to be launched from its launching platforms into the stratosphere, and from there travel to the area of impact and return to earth. There are three stages for potential defense against such rockets:

  1. The moment of launching, they are very vulnerable against destruction by various air-assets
  2. The moment in space (stratosphere), they are vulnerable against the various satellites from the USSF
  3. The moment of reentry, they are vulnerable against the various anti-missile defenses

Point 2, to be able to stop intercontinental rocket/nuclear attacks, makes the USSF already essential and ultra important. Not only for the protection of the US by anyone, whoever it is to launch a nuclear attack on the US, but also the hundreds of billions of dollars it saves for the development of anti-continental rocket systems. Only those two reasons will earn the USSF its place as the sixth arm of the United States armed forces.

Point 1, to be able to destroy intercontinental and any other flying objects (airplanes, etc.) from the point of launch needs more thought and investments. Several projects are dedicated and some of them are space-based.

Point 3, to be able to destroy rockets after reentry of space is under full development with various success rates, but none of them are offering 100% protection. With the introduction of supersonic rockets and airplanes, they made all those expensive, complicated anti-rocket systems absolute with one move.

If point 1 and 2 are successfully developed and implemented, point 3 only applies then to short distance launches of rockets. In this area, the Israeli anti-rocket systems are the most successful at the moment.

Outer Space

3D printing factory in space

Automated factories for the various satellites can be designed and constructed in the outer space, out of range of any satellite and heavily protected against assault. Energy is not an issue here with the always available solar energy, neither is space or any environment limitation. The need of resources from earth is not there or extremely minimal (base materials). The speed of the automated production can’t be copied by similar factories on earth; several satellites can be produced by those factories in a day.

With the factories, there will be the need of strategical storage spaces in any form for resources. With the resources, I’m talking about the resources used by the factories, but also additional resource for the space station and optionally the additional space stations, which are for sure be build. Also the issue of future colonization of the moon and even Mars is a factor, where resources can be stored.

Asteroids defense

For sure, the USSF will have the military assets in space for asteroid tracking or deflection. Currently, the US are considering three methods to deflect approaching asteroids:

  1. Use gravity to push the asteroid off course
  2. Use a rocket or spacecraft to slam into the asteroid with the same result as number 1
  3. Use a nuclear strike to attempt to destroy the asteroid, vaporize its surface and all of that in the hope to push it off course

Without the USSF, it would take up to 10 years to be in the position to try out one of the three methods. With the USSF, this number can be radically reduced. It’s a question to have the military assets available.

The other point of the problem with asteroids, is the detection of asteroids, which might collide with the earth, moon, mars and everywhere where humans are present (in future). The current efforts of NASA and others to create a database with potential dangerous asteroids is in the make, which – it claims – catalogued 95% of all possible asteroids from certain sizes and possible danger of collision.

“NASA and its partners have identified more than 95 percent of all asteroids that are large enough to cause a global catastrophe, and none of those found poses a threat within the century, …” (source)

The problem with the above statement is “… within the century …”. That part of the statement is not reassuring at all and short-sighted; it’s not a solution. There must be something better in place. Why? If the USSF is going to build resources and assets out there in and near space, it needs to have completely mapped all asteroids in our system.

Can you imagine that the US will create mining operations and even cities on the moon or Mars, the risk of asteroid impacts will be very large.

It’s unknown that the NASA projected measurements to protect the earth of possible impacts from astroids are enough. One thing is for sure, the proposed manners to protect the earth of impact is not a guarantee.

Industrialization of space

Resources for fuel, industry, building, finance, vehicles, energy and much more can be found at earth. Discussions of the rarity of those resources is a subject of discussion already for years, but one thing is for sure: it’s still available.

But in space, it’s available in superior numbers.

Here are some examples, where I can put numbers to use.

Asteroid 16 Psyche

  • The asteroid 16 Psyche. Elkins-Tanton calculates that the iron in 16 Psyche would be worth $10,000 quadrillion.
  • What can be mined from asteroids? S-type asteroids (LL chondrite) carry little water but look more attractive because they contain numerous metals including: nickel, cobalt and more valuable metals such as gold, platinum and rhodium. C-type asteriods (carbonaceous chondrite) contain water, metal and organic compounds, and the M-type asteroids (iron meteorite) contain metals including platinum group metals.
  • How much does it cost to go to an asteroid? The Asteroid Capture and Return mission — the central focus of the KISS study — blueprints the technological know-how to moving an asteroid weighing about 1.1 million-pound (500,000 kilograms) to a high lunar orbit by the year 2025. The costs is $1022.7 billion
  • How much is the asteroid belt worth? Including the gold, iron, nickel, water and other valuable elements that can be found there, NASA has estimated the mineral wealth of the entire Asteroid Belt could be as much as $700 quintillion, or a seven followed by 20 zero. That’s $100 billion for every one of the 7 billion people on Earth!
  • How long does it take to capture an asteroid (2008HU4) with a spaceship? About 10 years. 2.2 years for traveling to the asteroid, 1.7 years to capture it and 6 years to return it to near earth (7 meters diameter, 500,000 Kg near-Earth asteroid with technology available in this decade). This is excluded the time that the asteroid final parking orbit and the processes of actually mining it.
How does a space ship look like to exploit asteroids?
Illustration of an asteroid retrieval spacecraft in the process of capturing a 7-m, 500-ton asteroid. (Image Credit: Rick Sternbach / KISS)

Illustration of an asteroid retrieval spacecraft in the process of capturing a 7-m, 500-ton asteroid. (Image Credit: Rick Sternbach / KISS)

According COMPASS team at NASA GRC, based on guidance provided by the KISS study team, a possible space ship is dominated by two large solar array wings (90 square meters) that would be used to generate at least 40-kW of power for the electric propulsion system and a large inflatable structure for the capture mechanism (of asteroids).

When?

The holy question is of course when this all can be established. Maybe in 5 years, maybe within 100 years.

The improvements of the satellite defense an offense rings can be implemented within 5 years, if not (parts of it) sooner. The technologies are there, and some engineering issues must be adapted. Within 10-15 years, the satellite rings will or can be completed.

Many factors will influence the work and development and implementation of the space force, especially politically.

 

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