June 15, 2005
JAMES OBERG WRITES that some people are hyperventilating over space weapons and that they're not just wrong, but irresponsible:
So scary tales about U.S. "death stars" hovering over target countries promising swift strikes from space rely merely on readers not understanding the basics of orbital motion in space. A satellite circles Earth in an ever-shifting path that passes near any particular target only a few times every 24 hours, not every 10 minutes. It's quicker and cheaper to strike ground targets with missiles launched from the ground.
Nor is a space rendezvous robot, such as those under development by half a dozen nations and commercial consortia, a "space weapon" — despite media claims that one of them, the Air Force's XSS-11 satellite, could perform as a weapon. Plenty of productive peaceful rationales for these vehicles exist, from refueling to repair to resupply, and they are going to be deployed in large numbers in coming years.
Raising unjustified fears about them and other so-far-totally-conceptual space vehicles may be politically or ideologically satisfying to some, but in the big picture, feeding foreign prejudices and stoking the insecurities of some naturally paranoid cultures is a dangerous game.
I've written about this subject myself, most recently here.
UPDATE: In more space news, here's an article on commercial space capitalists.