Saturday, January 20, 2007

Look, an anti-spy missile

The Star Wars space defense program has always made the U.S. proud. So proud, that one day during the Cold War, Russia decided to challenge its effectiveness. Perhaps underestimating Russia, U.S. said 'sure, go ahead, let's see what you got.'

On Oct. 10, 1984, the Russians launched a low-power laser on U.S.'s Challenger space shuttle, which caused onboard equipment to malfunction and blinded the crew for a few seconds. The U.S. launched a diplomatic protest in response.

That, for starters, is an example of what anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons can do. Lasers can be ASAT weapons too, and Russia launched a low-power laser. Imagine what may have happened if a high-power laser was launched.

My imagination's running a bit wild now -- Imagine both countries launching lasers like crazy to destroy opponent satellites and spaceships. A couple of laser shots and cell phone companies could be out of business. That may be the future of warfare, who knows.

Now China's a George Lucas, sending a missile to devour its own satellite.

China supposedly used a kinetic energy missile to destroy its defunct Fengyun-1C weather satellite, originally launched into the orbit in 1999. When the speedy missile collided, it generated kinetic energy that destroyed the entire satellite and created loads of space garbage. The debris will now float around the orbit, perhaps threatening other satellites. Satellites move around the orbit fast, so any interruption could be potentially destructive.

That news -- of ASAT, not the space garbage -- raised US's and Russia's antlers, a reminder they aren't the Earth's only powers. Is India developing an ASAT weapons program? No doubt; it's only a question of somebody digging in and finding out the details.

Russia initially denied it, saying China's test were just false rumors. Was that an attempt to cover up China's test? No, surely not. Russia may sell China weapons, but the two are not friends. These two countries almost went to war many times. This test really happened.

Russia denied the story to maintain the validity of their own shaky ASAT weapons program, a friend said.

The need to destroy spy satellites during the Cold War gave birth to ASAT weapons, with U.S. and Russia researching options ranging from long-range missiles to lasers and the freakish nuclear-explosion powered laser. Many tests to destroy satellites were carried out in the orbit.

There were reports of U.S. spy satellites 'blanking out,' suspected to be the handiwork of Russian lasers, much like the Challenger spaceship in 1984. China also was accused of blanking out some U.S. spy satellites, which may indicate that their ASAT weapons program started in the 1960s or 70s.

In 1985, U.S successfully destroyed one of its satellites by launching a kinetic energy missile out of air.

Ultimately both U.S. and Russian ASAT weapons programs were scrapped for lack of concrete results, though have a system in place if a threat emerges, however shaky it may be. Add China to that list. U.S. and Russia will take a hard look at their current ASAT systems and try to redevelop it.

Tracking missiles into the orbit is the job of NORAD, an agency originally formed in 1958 to remain save our land from the Russian aerial threat. After the Cold War ended, its funding and personnel were drastically cut as it was deemed irrelevant.

NORAD was repurposed after 9/11, which served as a stark reminder of the threat posed by the skies. Hunkered in a Colorado bunker, thousands of U.S. personnel scan the sky for threats. With China's new development, NORAD's importance comes back into the spotlight. They will see more funding, for sure.


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