Orbital bombers

I know this is probably terribly expensive, what with the costs of sending things in space still prohibitive, but it made me wonder- in the half a century we’ve reached space there hasn’t been any space fighters, orbital marines, or millitary moon bases (moonraker anyone?)

Something I was wondering about was the concept of an orbital bomber. A spacecraft that could deliver ordinance anywhere on earth, hundreds of miles above the surface. What country would have the technology of sending a missle that far up to try to shoot it down?

I love it when I don’t have to go far for a cite for the right answer :smiley:

Which is not to say space is not used for weapons if you cound suborbital ICBMs. Remember that the only nations that have had significant space programs have never been directly at war with each other. Even if we were “space war” is the least cost effective spectator sport.

It’s not even necessarily that survivable. We already have basic ASAT weapons, and I imagine it’d only take a fraction of the time and cost it takes to develop an effective reusable orbital bomber to develop an effective counterweapon. Orbital EMP? Satellite-based missiles?

We already have plenty of spy satellites in orbit - some with telescopes more advanced than the Hubble, some with the most advanced antennas.

What do you mean by an orbital bomber? Leaving a fully armed missile base in space sounds like a stupid idea to me - it’ll be expensive to maintain, it will be visible from the ground, and its future location can easily be predicted. With current technology you can’t build a space-capable bomber that takes off from a base, fly through space and drop bombs on the target - or maybe you could, but it will be insanely expensive even by military standards.

The Nazis contemplated it: Sänger Amerika Bomber

:smiley: Wow great link Ringo… Wasn’t Star wars along that line guys, I mean a missile system to shoot down nuclear missiles

I believe there is a U.N. sponsored “Space Law” or some sort of “Space Treaty” that expressly limits the use of space as an area to develop weaponry. Perhaps someone with more knowledge than I could expond/provide links.

They’re called “Trans-Atmospheric Vehicles” or TAV for short. A google search netted a whole bunch of sites with info like these:



Basically they use what are called “scram-jets” to boost their speed up to Mach 25, do a sub-orbital hop, and show up over the enemy, drop a whole lotta bombs and go home. To translate the Mach 25 speed into something easier to grasp, a trip from NYC to Tokoyo would take roughly 30 minutes.

As for “who could shoot one down”: Iraq (maybe), Pakistan, India, China, anyone who can make a semi-decent IRBM.

All you need is a souped-up V-2 and a ton or so of gravel. Loft it into a sub-obital hop that intersects the flight path of the bomber, and kick the gravel loose once you’re 85 - 90 miles up. Bomber meets gravel, big fireworks ensue. In case you miss, send six or a dozen missiles. It’d still be cost-effective. It works against LEO sattelites, too.

I don’t get the Sanger Amerika Bomber. According to that link, it was designed before the invention of nuclear weapons and would have held one bomb, to be dropped from an extremely high altitude. How did they ever expect to hit anything from that altitude with one bomb?

The Amerika Bomber was designed with the anticipation of having an available atomic bomb by the time it was completed. With an atom bomb, close is good enough.

But to answer the OP, there are international treaties banning space-based nuclear weapon systems, and there are currently proposals on the table for banning all weaponry from space. It’s quite a political hot topic at the moment, but I won’t get into it here because that’s more of a GD than a GQ.

However, there have in fact been weapons in space at various times in the past. A few examples from the Soviet Union:

The Almaz space station (a.k.a. Salyut 3) was equipped with a Nudelmann recoilless space gun for self-defense against feared attacks from American Apollo-based interceptors.

In the mid-60’s, they tried to develop the Soyuz PPK, a manned space interceptor for the purpose of inspecting, and destroying with space mines if necessary, enemy satellites. The project was abandoned when they decided the missions would be too dangerous for the cosmonauts involved. All Soviet military satellites were equipped with self-destruct devices to prevent them from falling into enemy hands, and they had every reason to believe that enemy satellites were similarly equipped.

The IS-A was a satellite killer that actually became an operational system in the 70’s. It basically was a kamikaze satellite equipped with an explosive charge.

The Soviets also reportedly tried to develop the Uragan Spaceplane interceptor for the purpose of intercepting U.S. military space Shuttle flights launched from Vandenberg, over the poles. It was supposedly equipped with the same Nudelmann gun as the Almaz.

(Note: Bolding by me)

Therein lies the rub. Getting a ground-based antisatellite weapon into an intercepting orbit and releasing a shrapnel warhead at just the right time turns out to be much more of a challenge than it first sounds. Both the U.S. and the Soviets have been developing such systems for four decades and to this day have never gotten it quite right…

If we COULD build an orbital bomber, there’d be plenty for it to do in peace time. It would make a great satellite launcher and repair station.

But it would be a lousy bomber.

  1. It’s in ORBIT, so bombs would just float gently free in the bay until tapping the waBLAMMO!!:stuck_out_tongue:
  2. It loses all the maneuvering advantages offered by that pesky atmosphere. Approaches from an unexpected direction are either impossible or VERY expensive in fuel costs. An orbital bomber may be much faster and greater ranged, but it’s flight envelop will be much more narrow.

Actually, precision is not at all necessary. What’s necessary is having a good idea of the orbit, and the willingness to put so much gravel into space that you guarantee a couple of hits. The US and Soviets were/are trying for a precise intercept, which is what you need for an ABM system. If you’re just trying to kill satellites or spacecraft, a giant shotgun works just as well. One or two hits by marble-sized gravel at a closing velocities in excess of 20,000 kph is more than sufficient to kill any spacecraft or satellite man has ever launched.

There was a system under proposal, called Thor. Proposed by the citizen’s advisory council on space, and popularized by Jerry Pournelle, the Thor system used kinetic weapons. A Thor satellite would contain guided ‘spears’ made out of very dense material, which would be dropped from orbit. Their mass and low cross-sectional area meant that they could penetrate the atmosphere and remain at extremely high velocities.

With a constellation of Thor satellites in orbit, the U.S. would be able to hit targets as small as a tank or a house at any time, anywhere on the planet, minutes or hours after a threat appears.

I think these space-based systems have gone the way of the dinosaur due to the improvements in conventional smart bombs, UAVs, and other new high-tech weapons.

For example, consider the Global Hawk. From the Gloabl Hawk Fact Sheet: http://www.af.mil/news/factsheets/global.html

Given enough of these things, you can loiter weapons of pretty much any area of the world, pretty much indefinitely. The next generation of UAVs are designed to carry two 250lb smart bombs, and are smaller and cheaper than Global Hawk, and are ‘stealth’ designs. Cheap enough that theoretically the air force could have thousands of them in inventory, and could routinely put an ‘umbrella’ consisting of dozens of them over a battlefield at once, to be called into play by forces on the ground or even operators back in the States.

I think UAV’s could become the new method of force projection by the United States. Carrier aircraft could be used to establish air supremacy, and then a permanent ‘cloud’ of UAV’s could be established over a conflict, ready to rain down smart bombs at any time, on very short notice.

It’s even conceivable that the first sign of a U.S. presence over a conflict could be the quiet appearance of hundreds of stealth UAV’s.

Thunder Rods.

There was a great thread that I started where the mechanics of such a weapon were discussed. Alas, it was lost in The Great Purge.

DaLovin’ Dj

Astronautix.com is a great source for virtually anything that’s ever been proposed for space. There have been any number of programs with potential offensive military capability, but in the end they all were deemed either impractical or unnecessary.

How are “stealth UAVs” possible? Don’t they have to be in constant radio contact with their controllers?

It seems to me that a vehicle that is constantly transmitting huge amount of information can’t be very stealthy, unless they’re completely robotic.

Stealthy just means hard to pick up on radar. They aren’t invisible by eye, either.

The Global Hawk has a KU band satellite dish in its nose. It can transmit an extremely narrow band signal at ungodly data rates.

In future, as the planes develop more autonomy, you probably just turn all uplink information on for very short bursts at irregular intervals, too quickly for the thing to be targeted.

The enemy would know they are up there, but they wouldn’t know where.

Oh, and the Global Hawk flies at 60,000 ft, so it’s out of range of all but the largest SAMS.

Lumpy and Jet Jaguar have it close, but with only half a cigar. Try Astronautix.com, then look for Polyus. They actually launched one of these towards the USSR’s last days on an Energia booster system.

It was a Soviet deal to build a “stealth” space fighting platform that could both destroy US satillites (with a cannon and “space mines”) and drop nukes down on targets. This last would have provided six minutes warning/reaction time at best. It was apparently coated with a black stealth-type coating, making it the only black space vehicle ever.

It was developed hurriedly in an attempt to come up with something that all the various “Star Wars” proposals couldn’t counter. The fast development resulted in several design compromises, one of which resulted in the first and only Polyus essentailly trying to insert itself into orbit downwards (earthwards) instead of upwards (spacewards). Oops. Apparently a lot of it came down more or less intact into the South Pacific.