The 'Space Warfare Forum' is in a Coma — Should I Resuscitate It, or Pull the Plug?

Most people don’t know that the Space Warfare Forum exists. (Actually, most people don’t care, but even most of the ones who might care don’t know.) The fact is, the Space Warfare Forum has been inactive for 2 years — so, should I kill it?

(USAF image.)

My friends and I started the “Space Warfare Forum” about 15 years ago or so, if I recall correctly — we were stationed at Falcon Air Force Base, which is now Schriever AFB, in Colorado, and actually started the forum as a brown-bag lunch discussion group within the 4th Space Operations Squadron. The discussions continued after I transferred to Offutt AFB, Nebraska, in 1998, but we soon transitioned into an e-mail format that continued when I transferred again to Thule Air Base, Greenland, in 2000.

The e-mail discussions grew unwieldy, so I installed a bulletin board system on my web site which we used for a little while. The first version was susceptible to spam commenting, so I transitioned to the current vBulletin setup (direct linked here if you’re at all interested). We published an article — “Toward Space War” — based on some of the discussions, and at one time the forum had about 100 members, but after the spam debacle lots of folks dropped out.

Keeping the forum available is easy enough, but I’m not sure there’s any point. In the past I’ve made the platform available for other groups — my high school had its own section for alumni until the spam blowup happened, and Port Yonder Press used it for a short time for an online writing course — but those are as defunct as the space warfare section. At this point I’m pretty sure no one but me would miss it if it disappeared, and I’m not sure there’s much value in it from an archival standpoint.

I’m interested in everyone’s opinion on the question, but I’d especially like to hear from forum members (if any of them should read this): Should I terminate the Space Warfare Forum? And if not, what should I do with it?

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Congratulations to the X-37B Team!

A little over 7 months after its launch, this morning the X-37B landed successfully at Vandenberg AFB, according to this VAFB press release.

(Artist’s conception of the X-37. NASA image.)

This program has elicited some interesting commentary in the press. As I wrote in the Space Warfare Forum the day after the launch,

I find it interesting that the news outlets make such frequent use of the word “secret” to describe something that a) they’ve been given pictures of and written articles about, and b) they knew ahead of time was going to launch. Fox News, “a mission shrouded in secrecy,” really? Metro UK, “secret military robot shuttle”? They don’t know what secrecy is.

What a far cry from the days when only the launch and payload crews knew what was on top of the rocket, and the first time most other people found out about the launch was when it thundered away in the distance. And most people never knew what the payload was.

For the curious, here’s more on the X-37 itself.

And again, congratulations to everyone involved — well done!

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New National Space Policy

(Cross-posted from the Space Warfare Forum.)

(Earthrise from lunar orbit. NASA image. Click to enlarge.)

Yesterday the White House released the new National Space Policy of the U.S.A., available in as a PDF file at the noted link.

On a quick read-through, I didn’t find anything to which I could strongly object. Even the much-anticipated (by the aerospace industry) relaxation of export restrictions did not come across as the drastic change that had been hyped. I might disagree with the conciliatory tone, which seems almost an apology for rather than an affirmation of the country’s efforts to lead the way in space, but that seems to be the norm for the current Administration.

I don’t know that I agree with the focus on an asteroid mission and then a Mars mission (i.e., a Mars orbital mission) to the exclusion of a return to the Moon, since the Moon would seem to be the logical base of operations for such excursions. But maybe that’s the point: to reach those other objectives assumes first establishing a presence on the Moon. I hope that’s it.

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First Molniya Satellite — Highly Elliptical Orbit for High Latitude Communications

Forty-five years ago today — April 23, 1965 — the Soviet Union launched Molniya-1 on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur.

The satellite was placed in a very particular orbit: highly elliptical, with perigee (the lowest altitude) very close to the Earth’s southern hemisphere and apogee (the highest altitude) far above the northern hemisphere. By carefully selecting the angle of inclination (how “tilted” the orbital plane is from the equatorial plane), they produced a situation in which the satellite’s apparent motion over the northern hemisphere was very small, providing extended communications coverage in the polar regions where geosynchronous satellites could not.

The orbit soon became known as a Molniya orbit, after the Molniya satellites that were first inserted there. “Molniya,” itself, means “lightning.”

Here’s a wonderful YouTube video showing how the Molniya orbit works:


And, congratulations to the Air Force’s X-37B team for their successful launch last night. (Head to the Space Warfare Forum if you want to discuss it.) Well done!

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Strategic Space Symposium, Day Two

(Abbreviated from the full entry in the Space Warfare Forum.)

The second day of the 2009 Strategic Space Symposium was just as good as the first, and in some ways better. Highlights:

  • NGA Director VADM Robert Murrett, discussed NGA’s partial reliance on commercial satellites like GeoEye
  • I found myself slowly becoming an ORS convert, as the vision explained was different from the old “rapid space reconstruction” idea
  • I was pleased to learn that the ORS program will probably call for launching stored spacecraft before they become obsolete, which will be important for developing and sustaining a viable industrial base
  • I began to think that ORS might better be called ODS: “operationally deployable space” instead of “operationally responsive space”
  • The “Industry Perspectives” panel discussed how disruptive unstable funding can be to the aerospace supply chain, and how changing a system’s requirements usually dooms all efforts to complete acquisition programs on time and under budget
  • I was pleasantly surprised by the mild industry response to an ITAR question: maybe industry’s usual negative reaction is not to the idea behind the ITAR but rather to specific items on the USML and the MCTL (some items could probably be removed from the lists, if doing so doesn’t jeopardize national security)
  • The luncheon speakers gave excellent presentations on the warfighters’ perspective on space systems and space support, but I was surprised that neither of them mentioned the recent Chinese statement about developing offensive and defensive space capabilities

As on day one, I had some great conversations with company representatives and old Air Force colleagues, so for me the symposium ended as well as it began. Well done!

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My Day at the Strategic Space Symposium

Coming to Omaha for the 2009 Strategic Space Symposium seemed like a good time to revive the Space Warfare Forum, so yesterday I posted a long report about day one at the symposium.

I made some good contacts with company representatives and saw some of my old colleagues, so it was a good day at the symposium. Highlights:

  • The symposium is extremely well-run (in large part by one of my former students): good facilities, exhibits, and speakers
  • NE Governor Heineman mentioned their “Nebraska Advantage” program to bring military contractors to the state … I’ll investigate it when I get back to NC
  • USSTRATCOM Commander, General Kevin Chilton, outlined his “wish list” of space capabilities … one key item was improved space situational awareness, which could be a real opportunity for some ambitious technology companies
  • The combatant commands agreed on the importance of space systems and space support to their operations
  • I’m going to start distinguishing between macro-targeting (looking at large areas, for strategic purposes) and micro-targeting (looking at smaller, precise targets for tactical purposes)
  • The NRO plans to reinvigorate their science and technology efforts, which should spawn some new opportunities for industry
  • Building any kind of Operationally Responsive Space capability will require a new business model for acquisition, which also means lots of potential for contractors throughout the supply chain

Here’s hoping day 2 will be as good, or better!

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In Recent News: Operationally Responsive Space

I was surprised to see two news items about ORS this week: the ORS demonstrator TacSat-3 launched Tuesday on a Minotaur rocket, and then ORS-1 — which would be the first operational spacecraft, and an infrared imager, no less — showed up as the third-highest item on the Air Force’s unfunded priorities list.

I posted blurbs about both items in a dedicated thread in the “Space Tactics, Techniques, & Procedures” section of the Space Warfare Forum. I’d love to be convinced that my original misgivings about ORS — which I developed while still in the service, based on the briefings and articles I saw — have been overcome.

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We Told Them, But They Didn’t Listen

Back in March of 2008, my old boss prompted me to start a new thread in the Space Warfare Forum on whether President Obama might de-weaponize space. Here’s what we wrote then:

Not to overstate the obvious, but space is already weaponized. Not, perhaps, in the form of constantly orbiting weapons platforms, but then again we haven’t seen many proposals for those, have we? But in the form of dedicated platforms necessary to our national defense, space is weaponized. And in the form of recently demonstrated anti-satellite capability that challenges the Senator’s “unproven missile defense systems” line — and that we argued elsewhere were already evolving — the use of weapons in and near space is here today, and probably here to stay.

Fast forward to this weekend, and Reuters reports that “Challenges loom as Obama seeks space weapons ban.” But their article doesn’t seem to consider the already existing uses of space systems to enable terrestrial warfare, instead mentioning that two “officials” said “it was difficult to define exactly what constituted a ‘weapon’ because even seemingly harmless weather tracking satellites could be used to slam into and disable other satellites.”

That example seemed to me to be poorly chosen, but the Reuters folks apparently liked it.

In my follow-up SWF entry, I related what I told my best friend the last time I spoke with him:

I hope President Obama, when he took his first briefings on the very real threats facing us, sat up a little straighter and began to take his responsibility to protect this nation a little more seriously. I hope.

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Two New Space Warfare Items

Two items of interest — and concern — with respect to national defense and space technology, up for discussion in the Space Warfare Forum. Thanks to Bill Romanos for bringing them to my attention.

First, under the heading of “Chinese Space Ambitions,” a report of more space technology being stolen from the U.S. by China.

Second, an item about missile warning, and especially the apparent failure of one of our missile warning satellites.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep the Space Warfare Forum active; the old compadres with whom I started it have moved on and don’t seem to have time or inclination to use it. But I keep hoping — and I’m reminded of what my high school English teacher, Jim Parker, wrote in my yearbook with respect to writing: “Our beach is a lonely beach, and few come to see our castles. But, on we build.”

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Space-Related Troubles Policies

Two items in one: A question about whether growing geopolitical contention with Russia will hinder NASA’s access to the ISS, and an article (sent by one of my old bosses) that considers the results of the National Security Space Independent Assessment Panel.

I posted both items in the Space Warfare Forum, and rather than repeat myself, here are the links:
How Strained are U.S.-Russian Space Relations?
New National Security Space Policy Coming?

And yes, new members are always welcome in the Space Warfare Forum.

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