The United States wants to deploy a network of satellites that intercept nuclear missiles. Experts say it’s impossible

Last week, the Pentagon released a massive report detailing new features that he wants to use to strengthen missile defense, and part of that includes updating the list of the country’s assets in outer space. But although some of the proposed updates space technology can be useful, while others — such as stopping nuclear strikes directly into orbit experts say fantastic.

Space weapons and missile defense

In the document entitled “Review of missile defense” calling for the creation of a new constellation of satellites equipped with infrared sensors that will be able to better track the warheads on Earth. This technology will help US to move toward a new supersonic vehicles that are designed to carry nuclear missiles from one location to another. Also in this review, the Pentagon called upon to examine the possibility of establishing satellites able to intercept nuclear missiles from space. For this study the Pentagon will have to conduct experiments and demonstration of technologies on earth orbit.

“A lot has changed since then as the United States last reviewed space interceptors in a possible architecture, including significant improvements in technologies applicable to space bases and directed energy,” write the report

Recall that just recently, the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, has promised to create a system of “Sovereign’s eye”, which literally would be “to observe all processes on the planet.” Only as a coincidence.

Satellites designed to shoot down missiles at the time of its launch, was proposed and developed (drawings) many times in the past. In the US, this idea goes back to the Reagan administration, at the Initiative of strategic defense, which critics called “Star Wars.” Then called for the creation of a large number of space technologies to prevent nuclear weapons on American soil. But the General consensus on these assets for a long time remained unchanged: such interceptors would be too costly and too complex to do for them to undertake. First, they would need a lot — hundreds or thousands — to ensure global coverage. They would have to do a lot of complex technical tasks in a very short time to remain effective.

“From the point of view of physics, of course, you can send a satellite into space at the right time to intercept ICBMs (Intercontinental ballistic missile),” says Laura Grego, a senior researcher at the Union of concerned scientists (Yes, such exist — Union of Concerned Scientists) who are engaged in missile defense and space security. “This is a technical problem. The real difficulty is the enormous size required”.

Although at present the issue of space interceptors is not on the agenda of the Pentagon, US President, Donald trump hinted that he would like to see coverage of the kind provided by the satellites. “Our goal is simple — to ensure that we will be able to detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States, anywhere, at any time, anywhere,” said trump. “This kind of coverage can only be obtained from a system of thousands of space satellites”.

At the moment, the US missile defense system for the most part, tied to the Land. The biggest interception system at their disposal — a system of GMD Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, which depends on the network of sensors, personnel, and missiles. If North Korea will launch nuclear weapons, for example, infrared satellites and ground and naval radar will detect it and calculate the final destination of the rocket. Then the staff of the GMD command launch missiles located in Alaska or California. The interceptor tries to meet a nuclear missile during its flight in the vacuum of space — the longest phase of flight ICBMs. Then they crash into it and destroy until it reaches the earth.

Interceptor test in Hawaii in 2011

If we talk about the destruction of any missiles “anywhere, anytime, in any place,” the GMD simply can’t do that, because there is a limited number of interceptors. From GMD at the disposal of 44 interceptor, although the new plan requires the creation of another 20. But Arsenal would not be enough if Russia and China decided to launch its nuclear fleet overnight. This system is more focused on the threats posed by small players such as North Korea or Iran. Another problem is that these interceptors are not always effective. Of the 19 test interceptions, only 10 were found to be successful.

Part of the problem is that to hit an ICBM flying at speeds of thousands of kilometers per hour, is incredibly difficult. Another complication is that the interceptor itself is difficult to determine which object it needs to get. During the flight, ICBMs dropping items and equipment which can confuse the interceptor. In addition, countries are developing their missiles so that they were harder to spot. More sophisticated ICBMs can deploy bait during flight, making it difficult to determine which part is the real warhead. The interception occurs in the vacuum of space, where heavy warhead moves at the same speed as light lure. “He’s trying to understand where the real warhead, and it is quite a heavy task,” says Grego.

According to Grego, this lure makes some people think about space defense. The idea is that satellites are equipped with interceptors, you can target ICBM during a stage of starting or acceleration, but not during a long flight in space. During acceleration the missile is most vulnerable state, as it performs a controlled burn of its rocket engine and have not yet deployed any honeypots. But the acceleration phase of the very limited window. It lasts only a few minutes, so that any interceptor must be relatively close and act very quickly to hit the missile at the right time. In the past this option has already tried to deal with the use of the land or naval interceptors, and found that just can’t deliver them fast enough.

The satellites will work if you are on a low enough orbit and fly over my head at the time of launch. But if you move away to estimate how many around the globe missiles need a huge number of satellites to catch any run at any time. Satellites in low earth orbit are not on the same piece of Land. They fly at the speed of 30,000 kilometers per hour, completing one orbit around the planet every hour and a half. That’s why the mega-constellation of satellites operating in tandem, should make zigzags across the Land to cover the required area.

Such problem faced by companies like SpaceX and OneWeb, trying to develop satellites to provide coverage of the Internet on Earth. For example, SpaceX proposes to launch thousands of probes, to obtain the desired coverage. But the satellite that broadcasts the Internet, will only transmit light signals. Space interceptor will have to push out from the orbit of the tiny rocket engines and fuel tanks.

Some experts suggested the use of lasers, focused beams of energy instead of physical interceptors. Thanks to lasers, the time to reach the incoming missile will not be a particular problem. However, perhaps there are limits to how much energy the satellite can pass through the Earth’s atmosphere — set on satellites lasers might be powerful enough to destroy ICBMs.

And the constellation is equipped with a laser satellites will still be huge. The national Academy of Sciences published a detailed report on missile defense in 2012, which stated that the United States will require many hundreds or even thousands of such vehicles, to truly cover all areas of where on the globe can be launched missile. And the cost of launching such a constellation would be astronomical. Estimated NAS, total life cycle costs only 650 satellites will be above $ 300 billion.

Whether it is laser or missile, space interceptor must be able to perform a huge number of tasks in a three-minute period. He will have to detect the launch, determine that it is a threat to the US, make the decision to intercept a missile, to determine the trajectory of purpose, work. Some experts believe that because everything happens quickly, the satellite will operate autonomously. It’s a daunting prospect when you consider how many of them should be in the sky at the same time. Thousands of hunter / killer satellites, which will be Autonomous to identify the threat and eliminate it.

Finally, we should not ignore the policy. Launch hundreds or thousands of weapons in space — and that’s exactly what it did not like neither China nor Russia. These two States can retaliate by improving their launch system, to make nuclear bombs more stable during the acceleration phase of the or can increase the possibility of destruction of satellites in orbit.

For many, the very concept of missile defence is not as effective as the concept of mutual assured destruction — if one country decides to attack another, it will also be destroyed in response. Besides, missile defense lead to an arms race. Do I need to threaten the deaths of millions of people to keep the peace? This is a difficult moral dilemma. Because it works.

So, let’s see what you come up with the Pentagon. Obviously, the decision will not be easy. You can discuss the options in our chat in Telegram.

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