military firepower, coming to an orbit near you
Whether we like it or not, military hardware is going to be in space. It's just a question of when and what.
According to a post over at Popular Science, while NASA is struggling to keep its programs running and the ISS is facing obsolescence before its completion thanks in no small part to politicians’ apathy, at least one government agency is still willing and able to keep flying into space and expanding its orbital operations: the USAF. Rumor has it that in response to China’s military experiments in space, the Department of Defense is interesting in expanding its grip on spaceflight and is soliciting ideas for the next generation of space based military technology. Of course at this point, everything is preliminary and only $50 million is being allocated for the task, but that could be enough for a few promising research projects to get underway in the next five years.
Military interest in space is nothing new. In fact, a few proposals for lunar bases and orbital delivery of nuclear warheads have been kicked around since the dawn of the space race. However, there’s a good reason why we don’t have giant orbital platforms or space faring destroyers yet. We don’t need them, especially without an evident space based threat to combat. After the USSR imploded, launching spy satellites and communication networks to help carry out operations was enough and the current conflicts don’t involve nations that have the capacity to travel into orbit to get the drop on U.S. troops or launch something horribly destructive from several hundred miles overhead. This is why the current strategy employed by the Pentagon is to focus on conflicts at hand rather than potential wars, resulting in cuts for space-faring weapons projects. This is why even in the face of China’s tough talk about expanding firepower into space, we’re only seeing a small step towards a fully fledged orbital defense system.
As much as it may bother those who would much rather see a Star Trek version of the future in which science and technology bring us together rather than help us kill each other more efficiently, military work in space will probably help exploration and R&D. To efficiently wage war from orbit you’ll need reusable space planes and advanced technology that any future exploration project could use. Since the military is well funded to support its operations and development projects and its budget has to stay generous due to the very nature of its role, an entirely new generation of space travel vehicles and machines built to operate in orbit and beyond could be designed, tested and manufactured en masse much faster than any NASA project. And let’s remember that it already happened before. The space age was started with the crazy post World War 2 idea of creating rockets to hurl nuclear missiles across the world should the need ever arise. Maybe using Chinese saber rattling as motivation for renewed funding of a new generation of space based technology wouldn’t be a bad thing…