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View Full Version : Could this be a "secret" weapon?



jofg
2005-Feb-10, 01:14 PM
I was wondering - would it be possible for a country to launch a satellite into space, and program is to "fail" at just the right time so that it falls back to earth and strikes a planned target (major city, etc). How much damage could this cause? Could the satellite have dangerous material aboard to increase the likelihood of surviving re-entry and increase the amount of damage?

Or, could a space shuttle "drop" something into low orbit on a trajectory that would strike a selected target? Could this be done without anyone knowing that the shuttle slipped this into orbit? Say, a “fake” asteroid or space-junk?

Seems there could be potential for this to be used either as an "oops...sorry" way to destroy something you wanted destroyed, or as a stealth way to destroy something - or just a new way to deliver nukes or some other weapon.

Feasible - or the plot of the next Clancy novel? :)

Maksutov
2005-Feb-10, 01:20 PM
Well, now that you've mentioned it, it wouldn't be a secret weapon anymore.

Anything that would stay together to deliver a nuclear payload from orbit would have to be designed to do so, therefore the "whoops" factor would be out. A weapon that depended on its kinetic energy might get by the first "whoops" (although being successfully targeted would mitigate a lot of that "whoops"), but the next time, "whoops" would not cover it.

Argos
2005-Feb-10, 01:28 PM
Seems there could be potential for this to be used either as an "oops...sorry" way to destroy something you wanted destroyed, or as a stealth way to destroy something - or just a new way to deliver nukes or some other weapon.

Not in the real world. Such an incident would be thoroughly investigated, and it would be relatively simple to come up with the answer. And the results wouldn´t be fun for anyone.

Wally
2005-Feb-10, 01:39 PM
Damage based soley on kinetic energy would be squat as well. Stuff we put into orbit doesn't have nearly the speeds of, say, an asteroid or comet.

Metricyard
2005-Feb-10, 01:41 PM
Way too much work involved.

Why go through all the hassle of developing the weapon, launching it, releasing it, when it would be easier to just send a cruise missle.

sts60
2005-Feb-10, 01:46 PM
What you've described is a FOBS (Fractional Orbit Bombardment System), which was drawn up some time ago as a sort of orbiting nuclear bomber concept.

The Shuttle couldn't do it by "dipping down"; it is easily tracked and if it was in the wrong orbit, many people would know. As for a purported unintentional space junk hit, you'd either have a convincing piece of junk that you couldn't aim very well and wouldn't do that much damage (not big enough, not enough speed coming out of orbit) or something aim-able that clearly would be a weapon and still wouldn't have the kinetic energy to do significant damage. So that wouldn't work, either.

About the only way you could do it is to put a stealthy warhead and drop it from a satellite in LEO (Low Earth Orbit). The warhead would be undetected until it entered and started heating up, at which point it might be detected and its trajectory determined (thus betraying its origin). If it wasn't tracked, you'd still have a pretty good idea of where it might have originated (i.e., which satellite). If it somehow managed to fall completely undetected - pretty darned unlikely, I'd wager - I still think the signature of the detonation would betray its orbital origin (i.e., not a suitcase bomb). And there are very few countries (including the U.S.) that could accomplish this, so I'm guessing the evildoer would be identified anyway.

One reason FOBS was never built is that it's sneaky - not sneaky enough to attack anonymously, I think, but sneaky in that you can attack someone with virtually no warning. It's a fundamentally destabilizing weapon, and in the mad calculus of nuclear warfare it was found too risky to implement.

jofg
2005-Feb-10, 06:15 PM
How about a biological attack? Would a biological weapon, hidden in a "malfunctioning satellite" that crashed to earth survive? Would it disburse as it came through the atmosphere, there by allowing a large area to be covered?

Or is this just too expensive/too much work versus other ways of accomplishing this sort of attack?

Wally
2005-Feb-10, 06:21 PM
Sounds like an awfully expensive and complicated way of launching such an attack. the KISS rule of thumb would most likely rule this type of attack out of the picture.

. . . uhm. jofg. You're asking a lot of "interesting" questions, and you're new to the neighborhood. You don't happen to belong to some radical organization hell-bent on world domination, do you??? 8-[

jofg
2005-Feb-10, 08:19 PM
. . . uhm. jofg. You're asking a lot of "interesting" questions, and you're new to the neighborhood. You don't happen to belong to some radical organization hell-bent on world domination, do you??? 8-[

No, I...um...I'm doing research for a story...yeah that's it!

:lol:

Actually, with all the uncertainty about North Korea & Iran Nuke capacities, then reading here about Russia potentially resurrecting a space shuttle program, just got my imagination going.

electromagneticpulse
2005-Feb-10, 09:58 PM
How about a biological attack? Would a biological weapon, hidden in a "malfunctioning satellite" that crashed to earth survive? Would it disburse as it came through the atmosphere, there by allowing a large area to be covered?

Or is this just too expensive/too much work versus other ways of accomplishing this sort of attack?

A bio weapon would probably decay on entry, cells breakdown over 60C except for some bacteria that protect themselves up to 120C. To make it look like an accident and protect against the heat i dont see it happening, but merely using the launch of say a navsat system for a series of pre-emptive strikes.

One Saturn V rocket can put 118,000 kg into LEO, granted i don't know the weight of nuclear ordinance or the amount of heat shielding that would be needed but i would expect it would be able to deliver a good few warheads.

Van Rijn
2005-Feb-10, 09:59 PM
I was wondering - would it be possible for a country to launch a satellite into space, and program is to "fail" at just the right time so that it falls back to earth and strikes a planned target (major city, etc). How much damage could this cause? Could the satellite have dangerous material aboard to increase the likelihood of surviving re-entry and increase the amount of damage?

Or, could a space shuttle "drop" something into low orbit on a trajectory that would strike a selected target? Could this be done without anyone knowing that the shuttle slipped this into orbit? Say, a “fake” asteroid or space-junk?


I'd say the chances are just about zero. Keep in mind that it is common to announce launches that might send something over the territory of nervous countries with weapons capability, and that misunderstandings in the past have caused some scary incidents. So, launches are very closely watched. Satellites and orbiting debris are also extremely well watched.

Further, it is VERY hard to keep a satellite stealthy. Here's a U.S. attempt that didn't go so well:

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6782264/

Civilians with conventional hardware were able to track it. Sure, we can do better, but only after more trial and error, at immense cost using resources few other countries have. And I still wouldn't bet against somebody using a backyard telescope to find it. And then, that's assuming you can put something of significant mass into orbit in the first place, a capability few countries have ...

Inferno
2005-Feb-11, 12:58 AM
Reminds me of the Simpsons when Homer is trapped on the mysterious (The Prisoner style) island. Upon discover of the bad guys plans to take over the world: "Of course! It's so simple! ...... No, wait. No it isn't. It's needlessly complicated."

sts60
2005-Feb-11, 02:46 PM
How about a biological attack? Would a biological weapon, hidden in a "malfunctioning satellite" that crashed to earth survive? Would it disburse as it came through the atmosphere, there by allowing a large area to be covered?

Or is this just too expensive/too much work versus other ways of accomplishing this sort of attack?Yep.

You'd probably do as much damage by a fake "failing satellite" dispensing banana peels as it came down then you would by dispensing biological or chemical agents high in the air. Certainly you'd have more hip injuries.

Even if the thing waited til it got down to dispense its bad stuff, remember that you'd have disease or illness clearly focused on the impact point, and that you just can't hide the origin of the satellite. It wouldn't be very hard to figure out the Vulgarians* attacked you with WMDs. Twenty minutes later, the capital of Vulgaria adds a great deal of parking spaces courtesy of U.S. foreign aid, specifically the Thermonuclear Paving Program.

It's the fundamental problem with attack from space. You leave an unmistakeable calling card.


*Don't Drink the Water (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064247/), 1969. And it was "Vulgaria", not "Bulgaria".

archman
2005-Feb-12, 12:19 AM
How about a biological attack? Would a biological weapon, hidden in a "malfunctioning satellite" that crashed to earth survive? Would it disburse as it came through the atmosphere, there by allowing a large area to be covered?

Or is this just too expensive/too much work versus other ways of accomplishing this sort of attack?

In Moonraker it was pretty straightforward... what a great film.

Staiduk
2005-Feb-13, 02:15 AM
How about a biological attack? Would a biological weapon, hidden in a "malfunctioning satellite" that crashed to earth survive? Would it disburse as it came through the atmosphere, there by allowing a large area to be covered?

Or is this just too expensive/too much work versus other ways of accomplishing this sort of attack?

Way too expensive and needlessly complex - since a biological attack can be carried out simply by leaving a jelly-jar filled with biological material in a subway garbage can. No big machines; no great expense, just a few days later people start getting sick...

Ugh - I HATE bioweapons. :x

Fortis
2005-Feb-13, 02:46 AM
Even if the thing waited til it got down to dispense its bad stuff, remember that you'd have disease or illness clearly focused on the impact point, and that you just can't hide the origin of the satellite.
Yup. Given that NORAD tracks anything in LEO greater than 10 cm across, you'd have a hard job denying that it was your satellite that re-entered.

Perhaps you should go for the Andromeda Strain approach, where it is set up as a sample return mission that goes wrong. ;)

SAMU
2005-Feb-14, 01:44 AM
The most cost effective bioweapon delivery system on the streets today are winos. Simply pass out some infected bottles of cheep hooch and they will pass the infection to tens of thousands of people while they pass their day panhandling.

This has the advantage of being targeted, as winos tend their occupation towards the places where wealthy people are available and tends to avoid directly infecting children.