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Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/02/2013 10:24 PM

Space - High Ground or Achilles' Heel?

Perhaps conflict is first and foremost an economic endeavor. Although battles may be won with good tactics; wars are won by sustainable logistics; that is if there are really any winners. Perhaps the metrics of victory are quite subjective when viewed in historical context.

Although the history books may be written by the victors; the victor's hold on that history has always been fleeting. I believe human history supports this position.

Every satellite crosses the equatorial plane twice each orbital period. Contaminate that single plane and it takes everything between the apogee and perigee of the attack orbit. In scaled conflict I will suggest that an adversary greatly inferior in one battle space would be willing to sacrifice limited capability in that battle space if it would deny the adversary significant tactical and strategic capabilities. In such a case it might be decided by our adversaries that it be "better no one than my enemy."

As non-intuitive as it may sound; if there is any battle space where the economics favor the underdog, space is it. Any nation capable of launching significant payload to a highly elliptical equatorial orbit has the capability to deny all of space to everyone. It requires no ability to intercept; only the ability to lift and disperse specialized payload. Although the latitudinal location of current launch facilities greatly impede our potential adversaries capability to launch directly to equatorial orbit from land; it is probable that those potential adversaries have both the knowledge base and technical capability to make such attacks using other than direct assent orbital attack.

I also understand, that in the case of the GPS constellations, any launch site at or below 55 degrees would allow for direct assent orbital attack. How rapidly the GPS constellation could be degraded or taken down is a matter of conjecture; but I am confident it would be a high value target for our adversaries in scaled conflict.

Space based navigation and 3CI is a wonderful thing in a peaceful world; but it all goes away quite quickly when engaging a space savvy enemy. It would be bad enough to lose the force multiplication of space system dependent tactical weapons. It would be catastrophic if it shut down our entire logistical base; and if things go like I see them trending, in ten years or so, our entire transportation system will be space system dependent. How many nations will have rudimentary space capability in ten years? How about right now?

I know the folks calling the shots are neither ignorant nor intentionally careless; but I am not so sure they are not so focused on what is in their hands that they fail to see what is in their path.

Gavilan

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#1

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 12:31 AM

Maybe you can pitch this idea to David Weber, but please don't try to write about it yourself.

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#2

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 12:44 AM

Have you contacted JimmyJames to discuss this revolutionary concept?

Perhaps, if you distilled this into 3-4 sentences, someone here might engage you.

I leave you with this thought: What goes up, must come down. Where, is the question.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 12:59 AM

I know! I know! Get JP76 to ghostwrite it!

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#4

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 6:28 AM

Generally, it is a matter of economics and speed. Throwing enough debris into orbit to insure degradation of satellites is actually a Herculean task.

It is akin to trying to lay mines on the oceans to stop all ships. Space, even orbital space about the equatorial zone is simply too big to load up with enough debris to take a broad brush approach and there are a wide variety of orbital altitudes that must be considered.

Even so, it could take months or years before enough of the intended targets are rendered or degraded to the desired level. In times of war minutes and hours are crucial, so eliminating threat targets needs to be done with a much, much greater degree of confidence as opposed to an ad-hoc roll of the dice.

This means a more focused method is needed and the method of choice for specific targets is something like the ASM-135 ASAT direct ascent missile or China's SC-19 ASAT kinetic kill missile.

Only a few actors have the capability to directly attack orbital satellites and they are Russia, China, India, and the US.

Due the costs and the kill probability ratio other methods such as blinding a satellite or spoofing the communication links are more likely and have a wider degree of use. Spoofing was claimed to be the mechanism used by Iran to divert and capture a US RQ-170 UAV.

It is debatable whether the RQ-170 was diverted or actually crashed. Nevertheless, if it was spoofed, it was likely done by Russian technicians as a field test.

So, the real Achilles' heel isn't so much the kinetic destruction of satellites, rather it is the much broader approach of cyber warfare that posses the the real threat to technology in the battlefield.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 7:06 AM

That is certainly true....

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 9:59 AM

AH, you are right. I was thinking that a enemy who is capable of throwing enough junk up there to do that kind of damage would not be considered an inferior enemy. In fact if they had that capability in energy they should be able to prevail in a conventional battle.

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#7
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 11:33 AM

A.H.:

Thank you for taking the time in making a thoughtful reply.

Perhaps its not such a herculean task? Granted it would take would take the dispersement of over 1 billion particles to contaminate the equatorial plane at a range of 36,000 miles; this using a dispersement density of one particle per foot. But bare with me while we look a little deeper.

Since the orbit of the highly elliptical attack orbit would only need a semi-major axis of about half that, the number of particles required for a one particle per foot density would be reduced to about 600 million particles to contaminate the equatorial plane from LEO out beyond geostationary.

Since an optimized attack orbit would be retrograde it would require significantly more delta V to achieve the desired reach.

Using specialized war loads and launches from the equator this is not really such a huge task and could probably be achieved with a few launches if the required debris density is reduced to less than one particle per foot.

Unlike trying to mine an entire ocean, contaminating ONLY the equatorial plane attacks ALL space based assets in ALL inclinations between apogee and perigee of the highly elliptical attack orbit with each successive impact contributing to the debris field density.

Since each orbiting body crosses the equatorial plane twice each orbital period, the timeline for effective denial from a single launch attack would begin not in "months or years" as you suggest; but would approximate 1/2 the orbital period of the satellites with full effect being reached in 1/2 of one full regression of node cycle of the attack orbit, and this ignoring the effect of target debris.

We have put, and continue to put way to many of our eggs in the space basket. Although it makes a very profitable endeavour for our suppliers and puts lots of gee whiz into war making; in scaled conflict with the S.C.O. it leaves us with the possibility of participating in a slug fest deaf, dumb, and blind with runway decorations as our tactical air and our logistical lines of support at a standstill.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 11:40 AM

- - Not ALL are at the same altitude. to cover everything you will need to contaminate from LEO to geostationary. Granted some assests are concentrated at certain alt's but that's going to be a lot of particles. Do you imagine the minimal particle size to do significant damage ? Still sounds more like SF IMHO.

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#9
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 12:20 PM

Dear LongintheTooth;

I do appreciate the thoughtful replies on this topic. It is agreed that all assets do not have the same specific orbital energy and have greatly varying eccentricities.

The particle size would depend on the physical characteristics of material they are made of. I don't care to speculate further on war-load design; I'm sure our adversaries have that well covered.

I just hope we are prepared to fight without space based assets and are never faced with the situation of wishing we had numerous A-10s and terrestrial based navigation instead of a few F-22s and F-35s that have to use dead reckoning for navigation.

It might make sense to develop the capability to rapidly deploy terrestrial navigation and communication aids and incorporate the use of such in our training of our war fighters as well as our logistical support personnel; multi-mode our tactical targeting systems, and generally rethink our war fighting strategy.

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 12:37 PM

I doubt that losing even a part of the space assets would do much more than extend the delivery time of our response, or perhaps lessen its great accuracy a tad. The assets are there to enhance what we would otherwise do directly. It is foolhardy to assume that others have not thought your thoughts, or mine, to the point of making them unique. The end is that we either trust that those who are in those positions are doing it right, or get in there ourselves and take part, rather than post speculation on how the sky may fall. I hope that conflicts do not occur; but when they do, I back those who are in there on my behalf. It is hypocritical, IMHO, to say 'I told you so' after the water has been spilled, if you saw the problem and did not get directly involved. No system or method will be perfect, and planning always includes acceptable losses. If you are not prepared to lose anything, ( fanatics aside ) you do not risk a fight.

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#11
In reply to #7

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 12:47 PM

This is like poisoning a lake to defeat an army, but in this case the poisoning would be detected immediately.

The problem still boils down to speed and time. Saturating an orbital plane will still take a long time and it is unlikely to be quick enough to stop the retaliation.

Essentially, you are trying to disrupt an enemy's command, control, and communications to blunt or stop an attack. If the degradation effect takes days, weeks, even months it will not impede the retaliation.

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#12
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 12:48 PM

- - - ***

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#13
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 12:51 PM

Thanks for the quick catch!

Fixed via the temporary magic edit command. :)

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#14
In reply to #11

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 8:20 PM

The scenario is extended and scaled conflict with the S.C.O.

Again I suggest it might make sense to develop the capability to rapidly deploy terrestrial navigation and communication aids and incorporate the use of such in the training of our war fighters as well as our logistical support personnel; multi-mode our tactical targeting systems, and generally rethink our war fighting strategy.

I appreciate LITT's faith and support in our war planners and war fighters - let's not let them get side blinded by basic orbital mechanics.

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#15
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/03/2013 11:04 PM

Another consideration.

Any hypothetical nation that would poison orbital space is not simply insulting a single adversary, but the rest of the world, too.

The US is not the only nation to exploit space. Most of the world does. Many may not have their own launch capabilities, but they still can purchase a ride from nations that do possess that capability.

Mucking with the orbital space of satellites with kinetic kill will only bring the wrath of the rest of the world to bear on any nation that attempts such folly.

Not is it a logistical nightmare to do this, but it would be suicidal to do anything like that.

I can't think of one nation with such a capacity that would even consider doing this and there are not many nations that have that capacity.

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#19
In reply to #15

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/05/2013 12:19 AM

Dear A.H.

For one moment let us assume that space denial is possible.

Let me put this scenario in front of you. Give me an honest response.

Suppose the S.C.O. and Western Interests were in scaled, but not yet nuclear conflict in the middle east.

You, being responsible for S.C.O. forces were at a huge technological disadvantage but conversely; had a huge geographic logistical advantage.

You; no longer having any tactical or logistical dependency on space based systems could remove that technological advantage of your adversary through space denial attack and force the opposing western forces to withdraw.

Would you chose to use space denial attack or chose to lose the war?

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#23
In reply to #19

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/05/2013 8:33 AM

That question has a lot of "Ifs" that all need to align to become a reality.

However, the battlefield is never that simple. Any action carries with it a certain degree of success or failure.

In your scenario you are assuming that one adversary has the means to boost enough kinetic kill debris into orbit and enough time to wait out reprisal attacks until the attacker's system is degraded enough to turn the tide.

This may make a great book or movie, but if you have been following any of the modern warfare tactics employed with conflicts today you will note that the very first thing that precedes any attack is a very well coordinated set of attacks to shut down all air defenses and high value C3 (Command, Control, & Communication) centers.

Any weapon that could be used in a reprisal attack that could damage the attacker's ability to execute their battlefield plans would be very high on the list of first strikes. Facilities to launch to orbit would be relatively easy to disrupt very early in the campaign.

Getting that material to a high altitude eccentric orbit will take a heavy lift vehicle (remember, we are talking a considerable payload and probably multiple launches to achieve enough degradation). These are not simply a mobile launch vehicle, but requires considerable infrastructure for a launch site, which are easy targets.

A second side to this is that what you are proposing not only impacts the attacker's systems, but the world's space based systems. If you ever wanted a sure-fire way to build a coalition against you, that would be the best way to do it. It is tantamount to indiscriminately lobbing nuclear warheads. Your country and its people would be pretty well wiped off the map. In other words, worse than losing the war.

While there may be a threat there, in my mind it is not one that is practical when you consider all the details. It is a little like the fear tactics used by the media to exploit the idea of an EMP attack.

Again, while the theory has some credibility, the effort required to successfully execute such an attack is monumental and only a few countries posses the technological means to pull it off. And the media likes to emphasize the possible worst-case scenario, but in reality that rarely happens as Murphy Law rules the day when it comes to planing. As they say, no plan survives the first day at the battlefield.

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#24
In reply to #23

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/05/2013 11:09 AM

Good answer from me A.H.

But bear with me a bit longer. You stated - "In your scenario you are assuming that one adversary has the means to boost enough kinetic kill debris into orbit and enough time to wait out reprisal attacks until the attacker's system is degraded enough to turn the tide."

My reply-

The two primary member states of the S.C.O. have the capability for heavy launch - they may also have SLBMs capable of orbiting significant payload. The specific energy required approximates U/2a where U is the gravitational parameter and a is the semi-major axis (Earth radius + perigee height + apogee height). The total number of launch vehicles required is dependent upon the war-load design which defines total mass required.

The time it would take to cover the entire orbital plane would be a function of the rate of advance or regression of perigee (a function of inclination and semi-major axis) - probably a few degrees per day - let's say 4 degrees per day. Ignoring debris from each engagement, complete coverage of the attack inclination would take about 90 days for a single launch, 45 days using two launches, 30 days for three launches, or 6 days if 10 launch vehicles were dedicated to such an attack; again that being with regression or advance of perigee being 4 degrees per day.

Since the SCO is by far the largest military alliance on the planet and with extreme logistical advantage in the most likely conflict scenario, with only a small fraction of tactical dependency on space based systems in scaled conflict, they probably wouldn't give a squat to what the rest of the world thinks.

Your suggestion that Wide Brush Space Denial Attack is analogous to the indiscriminant use of nuclear weapons is a nonstarter. Such Space Denial Attack would physically injure no one and leave terrestrial physical infrastructure untouched.

The most efficient defense against Space Denial Attack would be to possess a known capability to fight without space based systems; which leads me back to an earlier statement -

"It might make sense to develop the capability to rapidly deploy terrestrial navigation and communication aids and incorporate the use of such in the training of our war fighters as well as our logistical support personnel; multi-mode our tactical targeting systems, and generally rethink our war fighting strategy."

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#25
In reply to #24

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/05/2013 2:20 PM

I would be surprised if more than two launches take place before a hail of cruise missiles lays waste to any launch site as well as any other potential launch site.

Even if an actor was successful at effectively degrading satellites, there is always the threat of nuclear retaliation. Only India and China have a No-First-Use policy, which means that the threat of nuclear weapons always looms if things get out of hand. This is a powerful deterrent since it is not simply what an adversary is capable of doing, but what they are willing to do.

Not having a No-First-Use policy increases the risk for an adversary and actors tend to keep their cards very close to their vests, so you can't predict that it would not happen.

I would expect anyone that attempts to poison the Earth orbit would create an international event as everyone has a stake in pie. The last thing you want to do if you are about to be stung by bees is start whacking away at the nests.

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#26
In reply to #25

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/05/2013 11:15 PM

"I would be surprised if more than two launches take place before a hail of cruise missiles lays waste to any launch site as well as any other potential launch site."

Very Well A.H.

In closing I wish to say that if there be a greater strategic blunder than underestimating the capabilities of your enemies; it would surely be overestimating your own.

My thanks to you and the rest of the folks for all of the great input.

I was surprised no one jumped on the error I made when calculating semi-major axis.

Ciao

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#27
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/06/2013 7:56 AM

You wrote, "In closing I wish to say that if there be a greater strategic blunder than underestimating the capabilities of your enemies; it would surely be overestimating your own."

Very, very well said!

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#17
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/04/2013 1:15 PM

"Space...is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space..."

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#20
In reply to #17

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/05/2013 1:09 AM

Yup; its a really, really, really, really big place; and every orbiting body must cross this teeny weeeeny little thin plane TWICE each orbital period.

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#16

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/04/2013 11:20 AM

You're talking about launching a billion-ish projectiles. They all have to have some "useful" quantity of energy, because presumably, satellites are designed to withstand some micro-meteorite hazards. I'm not learned enough about orbital mechanics to know the delta-Vs between an inclined and an equatorial orbit, and whether a dust grain would be catastrophic or if a heavier pebble would be required in most cases.

My guess: it's a HUGE job to hoist enough matter into orbit with a large enough delta-V to make an effective defense.

AH provides some much more reasonable alternatives. My contribution: In asymmetric warfare, it's the side willing to take the most damage before giving up that usually "wins."

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#21
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/05/2013 1:31 AM

Mr. Wallace;

Lets not go "billion-ish" quite yet. That is a dispersal density AT GOS of one particle per foot.

Just as a foot note - the delta-V required for an orbit of "a" semi-major axis is independent of inclination. The semi-major axis and therefor orbital period is a function only of specific energy regardless of eccentricity.

"and whether a dust grain would be catastrophic or if a heavier pebble would be required in most cases."

As stated earlier - I really have no interest in discussing war load design other than to say impact energy is not really the straight forward kinetic calculation as intuition would lead us to believe; but would still be dependent upon the closing speed of the pro-grade target and the retrograde debris.

In space denial attack, where in the words of A.H., a "wide brush" is used, the additional delta-V required for a 180 degree retro-grade launch would be about .4651 km/sec higher than a standard 0 degree pro-grade launch.

I am still trying to wrap my mind around whether, given the recession of line of apsides, if ANY high elliptical retrograde inclination might be effective. If so this makes any land based launch site usable in a wide brush space denial attack.

But lets look at a typical scenario of equatorial plane attack.

First off the launch needs to be done near the equator to avoid the huge energy cost of inclination change. We will assume here that it will be a SLBM with a modified/specialized warload composed of some type of attack efficient debris.

Second; a LOT of energy that would normally be used to move the payload from a highly elliptical parking orbit to that of a circular orbit could be used to lift payload to the highly elliptical parking orbit which becomes the attack orbit. In short the attack orbit would look like a transfer ellipse to the apogee of the attack.

Many here are suggesting that the payload mass would exceed the capabilities of the existing launch vehicles of the S.C.O. member states. That would depend on debris dispersal density and warload design. I am not at all confident that wide brush space denial attack couldn't be launched using existing launch vehicles, including SLBMs.

The specific orbital energy can be easily calculated knowing only the semi-major axis of the attack orbit. From there it becomes a matter of determining the sum payload mass and the number of launches it would take to get full coverage.

This appears to be pretty straight forward stuff - hardly science fiction.

And I reiterate -

We have put, and continue to put way too many of our eggs in the space basket. Although it makes a very profitable endeavor for our suppliers and puts lots of gee whiz into war making; in scaled conflict with the S.C.O. it leaves us with the possibility of participating in a slug fest while deaf, dumb, and blind with runway decorations as our tactical air and our logistical lines of support at a standstill. ----------- It might make sense to develop the capability to rapidly deploy terrestrial navigation and communication aids and incorporate the use of such in the training of our war fighters as well as our logistical support personnel; multi-mode our tactical targeting systems, and generally rethink our war fighting strategy."

Matter of fact - I suggest we re-write our war planning to exclude the use of space based systems - I know - I know - look what we have already invested !!! But hey - LOOK AT ALL THAT NEW MONEY TO BE MADE!!! Dudes - some of you have GOT to be down with that!!!! :0)

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#18

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/04/2013 1:19 PM

Sounds more like a James Bond plot with the Orbital Kill Zone as the arch-villain's threat to the whole world. Of course, the villian will explain this whole scenario much more clearly to the trussed up Bond.

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#22
In reply to #18

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/05/2013 1:51 AM

Dang; I missed that one. But you might want to try the first few chapters of "Spacecraft Attitude Determination and Control" - edited by James Wertz - its a spell binder!

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#28

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/08/2013 9:55 AM

The movie "Gravity" offers a superb illustration of this concept - truly superb. :)

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#29
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/09/2013 7:10 AM

Except I can't get over how there is enough delta V in a space suit jet pack to move a person from one orbit at 559 km to the ISS at 418 km, let alone actually navigate there.

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#30
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/09/2013 10:26 AM

There is indeed a number of artistic license invocations in the story. If someone works in the weeds of the space program daily, it might be too much to bear. Apparently the director & writer created a screenplay that was entirely accurate and it read, well, like a real-time shuttle maintenance mission. In other words, extremely slow and laborious.

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#31
In reply to #30

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/09/2013 1:23 PM

While "Gravity" may not be significantly nonsense from a scientific point of view, it appears to be portrayed as something a little more than the typical fantasy Sci-Fi.

Some things that I really find annoying in some of the lessor movies and shows is the popular "let's put lights inside the space helmet. Ever drive a car at night with the interior all lit up? Then there is sound in the vacuum of space. These things can and do promote science ignorance.

The crux of any movie is to create some sense of drama and it really isn't that hard to hire, and follow, their expert advisor's scientific recommendations. It doesn't take that much creative effort to create all the drama you need and still stay within the laws of physics.

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#32
In reply to #29

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/09/2013 5:11 PM

In the article on Specific Orbital Energy Wik gives the semi-major axis of the ISS as "6,738 km".

The height of the orbit is given by heavens-above.com as 416km at perigee and 420km at apogee. The radius of Earth is 6378km.

Semi-major axis is defined as 1/2 the major axis of an ellipse.

In the case of ISS the major axis would be height of perigee + height of apogee + earth radius. If my addition is correct this gives a major axis of 7214km.

The semi-major axis would then be major axis / 2 = 3602 Km.

Can someone help me determine where I am making my mistake?

If its not my mistake then could somebody with some credentials please find a way to notify Wik of the error and get it fixed?

I post this with the clear understanding that it may mean another dinner of crow; but such dining has been a source of learning for me in the past so I've learned to get by the taste.

Thanks

Gavilan

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#33
In reply to #32

Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/10/2013 11:58 AM

Full major axis = perigee + earth diameter + apogee.

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#34
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/11/2013 10:26 PM

Thank You Tornado !!!!! Another plate of crow served up by another stupid error on my part.

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#35
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/11/2013 11:06 PM

And then, if apogee and perigee are defined from earth's center, rather than surface, full major axis would be just A + P.

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#36
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Re: Space – High Ground or Achilles’ Heel?

10/11/2013 11:20 PM

Sounds right to me - but in most cases I think Apogee and Perigee is referenced relative to the surface. It is referenced in several of my texts as Apogee Height and Perigee Height.

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