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Saturday, January 10, 2004

Orbital Express

The defense department and NASA have had a long history of collaborating -sometimes unintentionally- on black programs. A classic example was the "X-wing" project. NASA's portion was the ["Rotor System Research Aircraft"], an aerodynamic testbed for for stopped rotor flight. The idea here was the have a rotary wing aircraft (helicopter) whose rotor would stop in mid flight and act as another set of wings, which would enable the aircraft to fly faster than helicopters can. Having the rotor go from a hundred rotations a minute to zero was the least of NASA's problems. The defense department conducted a program simultaneously that created a flying testbed for the radar defeating capabilities of an X-wing aircraft and conducted it's flight test program in Nevada.

Now for some reason, the [DART] program is listed as being a part of the [Orbital Space Plane] (OSP) that NASA is developing to supplant and eventually replace the Shuttle. What on-orbit automated resupply has to do with the OSP is anyone's guess. DART is the unclassified half of the [Orbital Express] program that has been underway at DARPA for several years. The military clearly has the most to gain from DART/Orbital Express - it would enable them to service their satellite assets remotely, which is something that the Shuttle was originally designed to do. The dimensions of the Shuttle's cargo bay were determined by the Air Force and NRO's KH-12 satellite - which depended on Shuttle missions for refueling and refurbishment. Eventually the KH-12 launches slipped and with the Challenger accident in 1986, the world's most advanced reconnaissance satellite was shelved after being in storage for 7 years, at a cost of over $100m a year.

With DART/Orbital Express, military satellites could be refueled and upgraded without an expensive, risky, and visible Shuttle mission. Currently, when a KH-11 satellite runs out of fuel it's placed into a parking orbit, where it remains essentially useless until it falls out of the sky. With DART/Orbital Express, a single satellite could be used indefinitely.

Of course, much of the same technology developed for DART/Orbital Express could be applied to a small kinetic-kill [antisatellite weapon]. Currently, [China] is believed to be developing a new ASAT capability, and Russia's is inactive. The US had a limited ASAT weapon that was launched from an F-15 fighter in the 1980s, and there were rumors that both the Air Force and Army were developing new ASAT interceptors in the late 1990s.

1/10/2004 03:46:00 PM ] [  0 comments  ]
A good quick laugh