Friday, February 15, 2008

Satellite Cowboys and Withering Shrubs

A guest post by Nosybear...

Interesting articles coming out on the DoD's plans to "shoot down" a satellite. Obviously, these guys have watched a few too many episodes of Stargate Atlantis and not enough Battlestar Galactica, for they haven't realized that when you hit an orbiting object with explosives, you get a cloud of orbiting objects.

Not surprising from the Bush Administration, having rejected all tenants of biology, they now fail to understand physics. An object in orbit is in orbit because it is moving forward at the proper speed for it to fall in a circle around the Earth. Every part of that object has that velocity. Now let's imagine we blow it up. What happens?

In Stargate, it mysteriously disappears. Bang, it's gone. Fly right through the debris cloud and nothing happens. Now in Galactica, Starbuck "hears the rain", the sound of the debris from the Cylon base ship hitting her canopy. That's closer to real life.

In real life you get an expanding cloud of debris still in orbit. Some pieces are decelerated by the explosion and begin to fall. Others are accelerated into different orbits, perhaps even higher orbits, endangering satellites, shuttles, space stations and anything else falling around the Earth. See, they don't all fall at the same rate, some are faster in orbit, others slower, some higher, others lower. The end result of blowing something up in space is not the removal of the object, but separating it into potentially thousands of missiles ready to punch holes in things that contain air, for example, or that route your illegally intercepted signals from the receiving station to the data mining facility.

In short, in planning the destruction of the satellite, the Bush administration displays exactly the same scientific acumen it has displayed on evolution, global warming, AIDS, any number of gaffes where the ideology has trumped the truth. What the Administration gets from all this is similar to the Iraqi invasion: I'm a man of action, see, a cowboy. Well, that's all well and good if you're too damned drunk to hit anything with your six-shooter. In this case, the drunken cowboy is asking some very good shots to turn a satellite that would most likely crash harmlessly into the ocean into a cloud of very fast projectiles.

In Galactica, Starbuck's Viper is strong enough to withstand the pelting from debris. Our shuttles and space stations are not. And in space, as with everywhere else, we have dumped our garbage to the point where more dumping creates a danger. Low Earth orbit is crowded. We protested when the Chinese shot down one of their satellites over the debris created, now we do the same.

Bush needs to learn from someone whose physics came from somewhere other than a Stargate rerun and call off the shoot-down before the sumbitch knocks out my satellite TV. Or maybe a shuttle.

No comments: