“There was a time when space-based missile defense was criticized as ‘weaponizing space.’ So, while we sat back and tried to show leadership on this issue, Russia and China weaponized it for us . . . [I]t’s time to get past ideology and develop real defenses, and space-based missile defenses shouldn’t be off-the-table. For less than our current systems, we could deploy a missile defense system in space that’s more capable than what we have in today’s GMD system.” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), Chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee at the July 8th AFA, NDIA and ROA seminar
This morning, at 7:49 EST, the New Horizons spacecraft will pass, at more than 30,000 mph, within 7800 miles of Pluto—called our ninth planet when I was a boy, but reclassified in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union as a “Dwarf Planet.” Whatever, we are discovering that Pluto has many moons—and much more will be learned by this mission which carries the ashes of Pluto’s original discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh, during his studies at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona (some 85 years ago on Feb. 18, 1930).
Cheers for New Horizons’ Persistence and Performance!
Click here for at least seven reasons why this mission should be recognized as a big deal, provided by Vox Media. A number of clarifying illustrations provided by this link are also worth your perusal. Click here for NASA postings of more details of the history and key players in performing this mission. (Don’t be fooled by the initial date; the article has been updated—on July 13, 2015 when I discovered it.)
Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), is the New Horizons Principal Investigator and leads the New Horizons mission, which is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He has sought this objective since 1990, when he and Fran Bagenal worked on missions to send a spacecraft to Pluto. After fits and starts, including a period of cancelation, the New Horizons mission emerged as a funded NASA program in 2001. Click here for the Wikipedia review of this history.
A spacecraft reportedly the size of a Grand Piano was used to carry needed fuel mostly to escape the Earth’s gravity. It is a scientific achievement accompanied by numerous human interest stories. For example, the Washington Post reports how this mission is a lifetime’s story for the Principal Investigator for New Horizons’ celebrated Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, called LORRI, which is providing key new data.
Andy Cheng, at the Laurel, MD Johns Hopkins Applied Research Laboratory (which designed, built and operates the spacecraft), has watched his family evolve from the early days of the New Horizon’s advocacy through its 2001 NASA funding through its launch on January 19. 2006—and today, he is among a crowd of VIPs assembled at APL to receive the close-up pictures of Pluto, after their 4-5 hour flight back to Earth at the speed of light.
This is the first NASA venture into the interplanetary frontier since the Voyager 2’s 1989 mission to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Perhaps this mission to the edges of our solar system will inspire a new generation to explore outer space.
It certainly illustrates the importance of persistence in seeking worthy objectives that raise the human spirit.
Oh, My Darlin’ Clementine!
New Horizons reminds me of another important venture into outer space, which also began in the early 1990s as a joint Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and NASA initiative. We called the mission “Clementine,” because in its last stage it was to fly-by and record data on an asteroid and then go into orbit around the Sun and be “lost and gone forever.” That portion of the mission failed, but was accomplished in subsequent NASA follow-on missions after SDI follow-on efforts were cancelled.
Clementine’s successfully completed initial stage was to return to the Moon for the first time in 25 years and map the lunar surface in 13 spectral bands. It did so with most impressive results, obtaining more important data than the entire Apollo program. Among data obtained was the indication of water (ice) in the polar regions—verified by subsequent follow-on missions that returned to the Moon’s surface. This finding is very important to possible future operations on the Moon, provided NASA ever gets a viable manned space program.
The National Academy of Science and NASA gave the small Clementine team that accomplished these objectives well deserved awards. NASA administrator Daniel Golden applauded the accomplishment as an example of the “Faster, Better Cheaper” approach to space exploration that he sought. SDI’s investment was about $80 million, and NASA provided the launch costs and space tracking support. A Clementine replica now hangs in an honored location in the Smithsonian next to the Lunar Lander, as illustrated in the photo below (upper left).
The entire Clementine mission sensor suite was scavenged from the SDI Brilliant Pebbles program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). They were prototypes of sensors that were deemed to be required to defeat likely offensive countermeasures to ballistic missile defense systems. These conditions resulted from extensive “red team” reviews of that space-based interceptor system concept—but they in fact apply for any serious BMD system concept.
The Defense Science Board, the JASON and internal OSD and SDI reviews in 1989 conducted these reviews and approved the continuation of the Brilliant Pebbles program into a Defense Acquisition Board approved Concept Validation phase. (I would note that no current BMD system can meet these conditions.) Clementine “space qualified” all components of the Brilliant Pebbles system except for its miniature thrusters—and they were also space qualified on a Astrid launch in 1994.
Indeed, except for the abrupt cancelation when Defense Secretary Les Aspin “took the stars out of Star Wars” in January 1993, I believe we could have a very capable space defense system today, capable of intercepting of all ballistic missiles launched from anywhere on Earth to anywhere else more than a few hundred miles away.
But I digress.
Clementine was such a success that the scientific community wanted to conduct a follow-on mission—and those advocates prevailed on Congress to appropriate the needed funds for the Clementine team to do so. After this approval, President Clinton used his fleeting “Line Item Veto” power to delete the funding. His principal advisor on missile defenses told the press that this veto was because of the “Star Wars” technology that would be involved.
Seems we can’t get away from the missile defense connection and the negative influence of political correctness among those who apparently don’t want truly effective defenses.
Anyway, as far as the “powers that be” were concerned in the mid-1990s, Clementine follow-on missions were “lost and gone forever” and not into deep space.And the Bush-43 administration did nothing to revive the interest in building a truly effective BMD system. And so far, no one in the executive branch seems interested in doing better today, as I discussed recently. No good deed goes unpunished.
Click here to read my first review of these sad facts over two years ago. And click here for my most recent reference to the misplaced priority re. cost-effective defenses—and indeed how exploiting the light weight kill vehicle technology that enabled cost-effective space based defenses could also produce cost effective defenses of other basing modes, particularly in making the Aegis Standard Missile Block IIA “all it can be.”
A Change of Heart in the Wind?
Because of the growing threat posed by Russian and Chinese space systems—as noted by the above quote from Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL), there may be an opening to revisit the decisions made over two decades ago to eliminate space-based defenses from the architecture for a global ballistic missile defense (BMD) to protect the American people as well as their overseas allies and friends.
It will be interesting to see if the House-Senate conference approves an important initiative by Rep. Trent Frank R(AZ), passed by the full House. This key legislation called for Research and Development of a non-terrestrial missile defense layer—translation: a space-based defense.
Specifically his proposal directed that, not later than 30 clays after the Act becomes law, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency shall commence the concept definition, design, research, development, and engineering evaluation of a space-based ballistic missile intercept and defeat layer to the ballistic missile defense system that:
- Shall provide increased access to ballistic missile targets, independent of adversary country size and threat trajectory;
- May provide a boost-phase layer for missile defense; and
- May provide additional defensive options against direct ascent anti-satellite weapons and hypersonic glide vehicles and maneuvering re-entry vehicles.
The proposed Act directs that these activities shall include, at a minimum, the following:
- Initiate formal steps for potential integration into the architecture of the ballistic missile defense system.
- Mature planning for early proof of concept component demonstrations.
- Draft operation concepts in the context of a multi-layer architecture.
- Identification of proof of concept vendor sources for demo components and subassemblies.
- The development of a multiyear technology and risk reduction investment plan.
- Commence development of proof of concept master program phasing schedule.
- Identification of proof of concept long lead items.
- Mature options for an acquisition strategy.
Not later than one year after the date the Act is enacted, the Director shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report that includes:
- The findings of the concept development required by the above
- A plan for developing one or more programs of record
- Views of the Director regarding findings and plan.
Not later the March 31, 2016, the Director shall provide to the congressional defense committees an interim briefing on this plan.
Now that’s an important initiative! Especially in view of the quotation from Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) with which I began my message. The threat is quite real.
If the initiative by Rep. Franks (R-AZ) comes to be, we will have an opportunity to revive President Ronald Reagan’s vision.
As Buzz Lightyear would exclaim, “To infinity and beyond!” Stay tuned!!!
Persistence is required for great achievements such as was accomplished by New Horizons—and sought to reach President Ronald Reagan’s vision for building truly effective defenses against ballistic missiles.
There is a growing awareness that Russia and China are exploiting space as a potential way to defeat American strategic and other forces. We know how to build defenses, including in space, to defeat this threat—have known how for a quarter century.
The key question is, “Do we have the will to do so?”
Near Term High Frontier Plans.
In addition to continuing to press for building the most cost-effective ballistic missile defenses possible, we will continue working with South Carolina folks to build a coalition to engage constructively with private citizens and their local and state representatives and other authorities to work with the SC National Guard in understanding and responding to the existential threats to the electric power grid.
What can you do?
Join us in praying for our nation, and for a rebirth of the freedom sought, achieved and passed to us by those who came before us.
Help us to spread our message to the grass roots and to encourage all “powers that be” to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.
Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage www.highfrontier.org, for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter.
Encourage them to review our past email messages, posted on www.highfrontier.org, to learn about many details related to the existential manmade and natural EMP threats and how we can protect America against them. I hope you will help us with our urgently needed efforts, which I will be discussing in future messages.
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