Space High Ground is better than Hypersonic missiles or new stealth bombers

Billionaire Elon Musk and Spacex announced that they were devoting all of Spacex resources to the development of a large fully reusable rocket called the Spacex BFR (Big F**ing Rocket). It will have a payload capacity of 150 tons. It will use the Raptor engines which already have had many test firings since 2016.

Development work began on the Raptor rocket engines to be used for both stages of the BFR launch vehicle in 2012, and engine testing began in 2016. New rocket engine designs are typically considered one of the longest of the development subprocesses for new launch vehicles and spacecraft. Tooling for the main tanks has been ordered and a facility to build the vehicles is under construction; construction will start on the first ship in 2Q2018. The company publicly stated an aspirational goal for initial Mars-bound cargo flights of BFR launching as early as 2022, followed by the first BFR flight with passengers one synodic period later, in 2024

Nextbigfuture has noted that achieving this space capability will be more powerful stealth planes, stealth bombers and hypersonic missiles, drones and planes.

Some in the comments believe that is a long way from getting built, because of development delays with the Falcon Heavy.

In 2008, SpaceX was aiming for the first launch of Falcon 9 in 2009, and “Falcon 9 Heavy would be in a couple of years.” Speaking at the 2008 Mars Society Conference, Elon Musk also said that a hydrogen-fueled upper stage would follow 2–3 years later (notionally 2013). The Falcon Heavy is being developed with private capital.

In 2011, Elon Musk stated that Falcon Heavy would “carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V Moon rocket […] and Soviet Energia rocket.” In 2015, SpaceX announced a number of changes to the Falcon Heavy rocket, worked in parallel to the upgrade of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle. In 2011, with the expected increase in demand for both variants, SpaceX announced plans to expand manufacturing capacity “as we build towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks. It appears that in 2018, Spacex will be at or very near the capability of having this production level.

By May 2017, SpaceX did the first static fire test of flight-design Falcon Heavy center core at the McGregor facility. By September 2017, all three first stage cores had completed static fire testing on the ground test stand. In July 2017, Musk discussed publicly the challenges of testing a complex launch vehicle like the three-core Falcon Heavy. There is a large extent of the new design “that is really impossible to test on the ground” and cannot really be tested until flight tests begin.

The Falcon Heavy is scheduled for a test flight in a couple of months.

So four to six years late on huge goals. This is still not bad. It will be enough to get over half of all commercial space launches.

The initial reusability of first stages that Spacex is already demonstrating will reduce the costs of the Falcon 9 by about 30% and by the Falcon Heavy by nearly 50%.

A six year delay would put the Spacex BFR having commercial flights in about 2026.

The development cost will still be far less than the $30-50 billion of the next generation B21 stealth bomber and earlier than its targeted 2027-2032 flying times. It would also be ahead of the time for hypersonic drones or planes.

The Falcon Heavy alone will achieve $1000 per pound launch costs.
A reusable Falcon Heavy will get to about $500 per pound launch costs.
The fully reusable Spacex BFR will get to about $20 to 200 per pound launch costs. Spacex is targeting $20 per pound.

What it will take to develop the next generation B21 stealth bomber

The US Air Force plans are to acquire a minimum of 80–100 LRS-B aircraft at a cost of $550 million per unit (2010) and envisions some 175 to 200 to be in service eventually. A development contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman in October 2015. A media report states that the bomber could also be used as an intelligence gatherer, battle manager, and interceptor aircraft.

There are no specifications yet as the B21 will probably not fly until 2030. Although there was talk of mid-2020 and late 2020s initial operational capability.

The B2 stealth bombers have about 20-25 tons of bomb capacity.

A fleet of 100 B21 stealth bombers would have 2000 to 2500 tons of bomb capacity if they had similar to B2 bomb capacity.

Between 2004 and 2009 $1.4 billion was spent on the next generation bomber. About $4 billion was spent from 2010 to 2017.
In FY2018, $2 billion will be spent. Annual spending will rise to about $4 billion per year. It will be another $30-50+ billion for development before the procurement of each plane at a hoped for $550 million a piece.

Hypersonic missiles, drones and planes

Hypersonic drones and planes will depend upon the development of new engines. Aerojet Rocketdyne is developing turbine-based combined cycle engine. It is a three in one engine that will operate at low speed all the way through hypersonic speed.

The hypersonic missiles are far simpler and are using rockets to boost to about mach 3-4 and then having a hypersonic Mach 4+ engine start and provide extra range and movement.

Spacex Launch capability as a side project can be used to give hypersonic weapons that can hit anywhere on Earth in minutes

Kinetic orbital strike (rods from god) is the hypothetical act of attacking a planetary surface with an inert projectile, where the destructive force comes from the kinetic energy of the projectile impacting at very high velocities. Then dropping several ton metal rods just allows has gravity to accelerate them to mach 10. They would have some directional control with some control fins and technology similar to JDAM bombs. This has far less development risk and complexity than developing hypersonic technology in the current projects.

All Spacex systems or any space launch system has to do is carry the metal rods and their orbital platforms and place them into position. Spacex Falcon Heavy (53 tons to orbit) and Spacex BFR (150 tons to orbit) make it easier to put whole pieces of the Rods from God system into space.

Small rods or missiles that release a cluster of metal balls can be used to take down enemy missiles like ICBMs (particularly in the boost phase) and they can be used to fire downwards at any missile targeting the Rods from Gods platforms.

The Spacex BFR can also make trips to the moon for fuel or other material supplies.

20 Falcon Heavy launches per year could put up about 1000 tons. Those would cost about $1 to 2 billion. If each rod was 10 tons and half of the weight was rods and the other half platform, then it would be 50 shots.

100 Falcon BFR launches per year could cost (assuming the price targets and reusability are achieved) $700 million to $4 billion and would put 15000 tons into space each year. If each rod was 10 tons and half of the weight was rods and the other half platform, then it would be 750 shots.

This would be more attack capabilities sooner and cheaper than the B21 and hypersonic weapons programs. I think it would be lower development risk. It would also have the multiple use benefits of generating a massive space economy. It is actually far more important for the massive space economy.

Nextbigfuture will discuss developing the orbital space industry and the moon (including the lunar cave that can hold over 100,000 people) in following articles.

43 thoughts on “Space High Ground is better than Hypersonic missiles or new stealth bombers”

  1. saying (correctly) that you can disable the satellites with just one bullet from 100 miles way means you’ve just rendered BFR useless (for this particular job) since you don’t need 250 tons to release a bullet.
    Lift capacity will be useful for other things but what you do need is space ship that can change orbits multiple times and US has one already up there as we speak whereas Russia DOES NOT. The only way for Russia to be able to respond to BFR sneak attacks is to have the same capability which it does not have. Russian will not be able to creat a BFR like system, it could try to reserect Buran program but that thing broke the back of USSR and will surely do the same to Russia.

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  2. Sigh, the only way to describe this is the Dunning Kruger effect

    FH is just strapping 3 existing, working, 3m diameter, unmanned, first stage cores together, powered by existing low pressure gas gen kerosene engines, what took them 6 years is just figuring out how to structually reinforce and test the first stage

    BFR require
    1 Development from scratch of completely new engine, man rated, using the most complicated full stage cycle that even the Soviets thought not worthwhile, with chamber pressure higher than NK33 for the biggest boom, then cluster more together than the N1
    2 Develop from scratch a carbon cyrogenic stage that has never flown or even tested on any rocket in history, and going straight to 10m and man rating
    3 Develop a Shuttle sized carbon second stage with concentric tanks thats structually and thermally able to do shuttle type aerobreaking reentry, on its side, while carrying hundred of tons of cyrogenic fuel, and people
    3 Man rate all of the above, and not just to shuttle level reliability, but to passenger jet level
    4 Develop life support for said stage sufficent to keep 40 people alive in space for weeks
    5 Test everything without a single failure, because there are zero high value payload for them to piggyback on, and a single failure blows up 5000mT of rockets and maybe the entire launch complex, for fiancial equivilent of using Saturn 5 + shuttle combo to launch a few cubesats
    6 Design and build VAB and LC39 on a barge, capable of supporting 5000mT of fuelly fueled rocket on top, and not flip over in any weather.
    7 Do all of the above with no public funding
    8 Do all of the above in 4 years
    9 Oh and did I mention all of the above have to be reuseable hundreds of times without any maintiance?

    BFRs complexity is at least an order of magnitude if not two higher than FH, you have to be absolutely clueless to believe it can fly by 2022 even with full $100B goverment funding. The fact it took them 6 years and counting just to develop Falcon Heavy and crewed Dragon, the latter with goverment funding, makes even the fantasy difficult to believe.

    As for Rod from God, A it takes deltaV to deorbit things too, B fixed orbits takes a while to align with targets,C it takes deltaV to change orbit too, D ICBMs already gets you 40min global strike, with none of the above problem and at a fraction of the cost

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    • What are you doing vlhcvlhc?!
      The cult will crucify you. They have a zero tolerance policy for anyone who criticizes their fearless leader.

      Great post by the way!

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      • There is no cult. You and vlhcvlhc are mocked because you exist here to spread FUD, and in that attempt you say unintelligent, mockable things.

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        • “There is no cult.”

          You’re in denial Td. Hope you go through the other 6 stages.

          As for the other part of your comment, instead of mocking us, why don’t you reply with arguments telling us where we’re wrong?
          You can’t that’s why, because at the core of cults there’s faith and blind loyalty, not rational thinking.

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          • ” As for the other part of your comment, instead of mocking us, why don’t you reply with arguments telling us where we’re wrong? ”

            I already have, you just trollishly dismiss them.

            We’ll just have to disagree dishonestly on your part, and honestly on mine.

            Yours is the cult of pathological skepticism.

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            • “I already have”

              Td, maybe you think you have, but you haven’t!
              Vlh’s main point was that, spacex has been working on the falcon heavy for over 6 years and they still haven’t made it to work, and don’t forget that the falcon heavy shares a lot with the falcon 9. He says, spacex wont be able to build bfr by 2022 (FH was supposed to launch in 2013 by the way!!!).
              What was your argument against this?

              As for the pathological scepticism, it is unavoidable when you’re up against a pathological lier like musk.

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              • Putting aside all the frothy heckling.
                Have you actually argued this with a fair variety of aerospace professionals and hardcore geeks? Or just internet echo chambers of people who agree ahead of time and/or have something to gain from Musk/SpaceX being wrong?

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                • MTCZ, I have. Have you? Or do you just read Tesla / SpaceX press releases and Musk’s tweets?
                  Why didn’t you answer the question I asked?

                  I have nothing to gain about SpaceX’s failure. Actually I hope they succeed since I love space. I have a lot against charlatanry though as everyone should.

    • About FH, it’s mostly the two mishaps of F9 and its evolution (being able to launch in reusable mode most satellites on the launch market), plus running too many races (reusability, Dragon 2, upgrading Merlin engines and F9) and Elon’s legendary optimism that best explain FH delay.
      FH became the lowest priority of their endeavours and even now nobody really knows how often it could fly.
      By the way the article comparing capacities to LEO it’s 30 for FH and 150 for BFR (80% reusability for FH and 100% for BFR).
      About BFR…
      It looks like the Raptor engine is working just fine and upgrading it to its final design for BFR 1 (1,7 MN) will be done within a few years. After that running 35 engines per launch and launching let’s say 20 times per year, you gain a lot of experience ( the engine would burn about 140 000 seconds per year in flight conditions) their reliability will be known long before you put any human on top. Remember they will have experience with FH and its 29 engines by then.
      Most probably first flight will be around 2022/2025 with suborbital hops at the beginning, then launching satellites, then refilling in orbit with tanker version of the BFS. All that takes time, and so Mars or Moon missions are most probably at least ten years from now. Nobody’s gonna send people to Mars on BFR in 2024 even in Elon’s dreams.
      But we’re talking about a fully reusable launch system, whose degree of complexity and cost to build is an order of magnitude under the Shuttle. BFR will be a rocket and remember not long ago every one of them was scrapped after use. More than that, the BFS will be tested a lot of times before transporting tiny crews to LEO and managing tens of passagers is not probable before at least 10/15 years…
      So we’re talking evolution occurring during 10/15 years and not everything within 4/5 years.
      I don’t see any military use beyond launching big birds and possibly taking care of them (upgrading, maintenance, refilling in orbit).

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    • $100 billion sounds reasonable for a single prototype.
      2022-not so much.
      “As for Rod from God”
      Launching ICBMs with purely kinetic warheads is cheaper AND drastically more powerful.

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      • It’s already been worked for at least three years, 2022 would put it at 8 years R&D time. What’s unrealistic about that?

        ICBM are far more costly, look like ICBM when they a launch, and are no more powerful. You managed to get everything wrong.

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        • “What’s unrealistic about that?”
          Everything.It’s the time required for the entire USA to develop a single-use rocket using essentially unlimited budget.Now some clown claims founding a Holy Grail?
          “ICBM are far more costly”
          Then moving things TO ORBIT?!
          You can’t be that dumb.
          “look like ICBM when they a launch”
          Which is better than looking like deorbiting piece of metal during deorbit.Which will take AT LEAST one orbital cycle.
          “no more powerful”
          Strike my previous statement,you ARE that dumb.
          ICBM kinetic warhead impacts at 3 to 4 kps.Rod of Moronism won’t be able to break 2kps.

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          • He’s talking about the common criticism of like conventional trident mod – the idea that if you’re going to hurl something at the enemy that looks like an ICBM, it might as well be an ICBM because they’ll just assume it is. Unless you’re using it against an undeveloped country who can’t overreact meaningfully anyway. This is why Rod from God is as non-starter as CTM – a 10 ton tungsten rod the length of telephone pole and twice as wide will look just like an ICBM as well. We need to ask ourselves wtf we think the point of Rod from God is supposed to be? What are you gaining you don’t currently have? Space lift has historically been expensive and unreliable. I know we’re all pretty excited about the prospect of that not being the case, but it’s still the case. And weaponizing space comes with its own risks and issues, politically and technologically. We already want hypersonic engines and structures for a host of purposes. While fabbing 10 ton giant tungsten rod does nothing besides put a giant tungsten rod in space. Whereas if you master hypsersonics you have missile, bomber, fighter, commercial applications.

            But circling back to comparing FH to BFR. BFR is less mature but I don’t think people who assume that should make FH simpler have any design or aeronautics experience. FH is the unfortunate result of self imposed scope creep. You’ve designed this rocket for something and then you decide down the road to do something way out of scope with it and the ensuing redesign is nontrivial as hell. I don’t care how novel someone can argue that a few aspects of BFR are, the fact is that it’s just a brand new design evolution. At least you know from the start what your requirements and objectives are and they don’t change. At least it wasn’t built for one thing and is now being recycled for a radically more demanding purpose.

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    • @vlhcvlhc
      “using the most complicated full stage cycle that even the Soviets thought not worthwhile”
      Well, couple of years ago all the well established rocket manufacturers from US, Europe and Russia were laughing at the “concept” of reusability. Now, that laughing changed to crying…

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  3. Often times you need bombers to demonstrate force and intimidate in a visiable way in order to deter the enemy. You can move the bombers close to the enemy, run dry bombing runs and such. You can not do this with space weapons. BFR will not replace B21 or hypersonic missiles but it will give a new ability to the US military that no other country will be able to match. Russia is out of question indefinitelly and China in next 30 years also out.

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    • Those countries do have ICBMs Igor. They also have the technology to shoot down any satellite, including your precious BFR while it is in orbit.

      BFR is completely useless against them. It is however useful against smaller nation, but so are existing systems, no need at all for the BFR.

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      • More BS from Kudoz, it is all that can be expected.

        “Those countries do have ICBMs Igor.” <– Those countries do, some others do, some don't, either way, so what?
        " They also have the technology to shoot down any satellite, including your precious BFR while it is in orbit. " <– So what? The US also has the means to destroy satellites, and the development of a defense against such means is also a certainty. A kinetic weapon also could be launched from the US over US soil only, the launcher does not need to orbit so much as once.
        "It is however useful against smaller nation, but so are existing systems, no need at all for the BFR." <– Of course the US has no way to benefit from far less expensive access to space, even if it potentiates deployment of kinetic weapons in orbit. Musk should just forget the idea, right?

        Thank you for showing us the way Kudoz, truly the scales have now fallen from our eyes.

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        • Wow, I guess you really feel the need to defend your spiritual leader.

          I was replying to Igor, telling him that BFR as a weapons doesn’t make much sense and it’s useless against major countries. It could work against smaller countries though, although it’s a bit of an overkill since the US already has other cheaper systems to do the job.
          Which part of this you don’t agree with?!

          “Of course the US has no way to benefit from far less expensive access to space, even if it potentiates deployment of kinetic weapons in orbit. Musk should just forget the idea, right?”

          I did not say that, Musk should definitely pursue it, cheap access to space is a really good thing, not just for the US.
          What I said is that it’s not designed or meant to be used as a weapons system. It also would not make sense as a weapons system.

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          • ” Wow, I guess you really feel the need to defend your spiritual leader. ” <– Wow, since there is not one relevant fact in your reply to me, I guess it's clear to everyone with a functional brain you really are just a troll, or really not bright.

            " I was replying to Igor, telling him that BFR as a weapons doesn't make much sense and it's useless against major countries. " <– No, that was the obviously ludicrous assertion you were making despite it's complete disconnection with reality. drastically less expensive access to space is itself a strategic advantage of great utility. You seem to be arguing against the strawman argument that the BFR is only of military use if it is itself directly a weapons or intrusion platform. This is true against opponents of any capability level — and it as militarily useful in a transport roll as an aircraft is besides.

            " Which part of this you don't agree with?! " <– Every bit of it is BS.

            " What I said is that it's not designed or meant to be used as a weapons system. " <– A fact without relevance, access to space is itself a vital military capability.

            " It also would not make sense as a weapons system. " <– An untrue statement because access to space is itself a vital military capability.

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            • “drastically less expensive access to space is itself a strategic advantage of great utility.”

              Yes it is. Still useless against major powers though since not only they can shoot down anything you put up there, but also you can’t use the ‘rods from god’ against them because they would retaliate with ICBMs.

              Td I feel like you’re contradicting me just for the sake of contradicting me. Do you earn points in the cult community if you attack ‘infidels’? Or is it just the usual religious duty to convert others?

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              • Once again NOBODY can shoot down a maneuvering target that can change orbits freely. Just like that small space plane US keeping in space for 6 month at a time can not be touched. BFR on the other hand can fly to any Russian satellite an F. It Up.

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                • Just keep exploding stuff, and there’ll be no more safe orbits left to shift to. From scorched earth to scorched space.

                • Igor, I’ll put my replies in one comment.

                  – It’s a good point when you say Russia wont use IBMSs against space weapons. But I disagree. They will, or at least leave it in ambiguity (for deterrance), since space weapons are not exactly conventional weapons.

                  Soyuz can also fly to any american satellite and destroy it. It may be better than BFR in this case since it’s smaller.

                  BFR will have a big millitary impact though since it can be used to lift a huge number of survailance satellite in space. That’s a huge advantage for the US. As for BFR itself being used as a weapon, I doubt very much it will be.

                • No BFR is a space truck with huge fuel reserve, it can maneuver between orbits, go to the highest sats and all it needs is give them a push off orbit. Soyuz has only enough fuel to get one target and crush into it destroying itself. One BFR can deorbit all Russian military and geolocation sats, whereas Soyuz has to suicide to disable just one sat.

                • Yes, obviously the BFR is more capable than the Soyuz. But what difference does that make against a nuclear power?
                  It’s an unusable system against major foes because they will retaliate with conventional weapons (like Soyuz) if they can, or threaten to go nuclear if they cannot. This is the point I’ve been trying to make in all these comments (on this post). BFRs usefulness to the military (if and when it gets built) is in sending a lot of surveillance satellites up there.

                • The point I am making nuclear power is irrelevant, all you could do is threaten like north Korea but not much else. BFR could disable a sat from a 100 miles away with simple sniper rifle (Bullets travel in straight lines in space) and nobody would know if the sat was hit by space junk, micrometeorite or a bullet). Plausible denyability baby. If Russian response to launch ASAT missile and blow up a sat in 1000000 parts it will piss off all other countries with space assets including China. See what I am saying here.

                • Are you seriously comparing Russia / China to North Korea?!

                  As for BFR disabling one satellite, sure, the Russians may think it was a micrometeorite. They don’t have just one satellite though. And if a lot of them start going down, they’ll know something’s up, they’re not morons.

                  And by the way, saying (correctly) that you can disable the satellites with just one bullet from 100 miles way means you’ve just rendered BFR useless (for this particular job) since you don’t need 250 tons to release a bullet.

              • You really think just because a country has ICBMS a conventional weapon can not be used against such a country? Don’t be rediculous. If something falls from the sky and destroy some secret bunker in Siberia what will Russia do, launch ICBMs? How can Russia even prove it was destroyed by anything else other than a meteorite?

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          • Neither Russia nor China have demonstrated ability to shoot down maneuvering space targets. US at least shoot down a falling deorbiting satellite.

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            • ASAT weapons can destroy maneuvering space targets – they can either be homing, or they can fill entire orbits with deadly debris. If the world goes this route, then access to space could be jeopardized.

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            • Russia ddoesn’t even have missile defense with exo-atmospheric reach. At least China has shut down a stationary satellite in orbit.

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            • “US at least shoot down a falling deorbiting satellite”
              Yeah,8-hour-nuclear-war called.FAR more than a falling deorbiting sat was shot down.
              “Russia ddoesn’t even have missile defense with exo-atmospheric reach”
              A-235 is a thing,you know.
              “If something falls from the sky and destroy some secret bunker in Siberia what will Russia do, launch ICBMs?”
              No,it will clear the orbits of satellites of offending country.Which will lead to this country launching ICBMs.
              “How can Russia even prove it was destroyed by anything else other than a meteorite?”
              /facepalm
              You see,there is a difference between meteorite and slowly deorbiting piece of metal.
              Amateurs would be able to see the latter one,especially since starting position is known.
              “Once again NOBODY can shoot down a maneuvering target that can change orbits freely”
              ROFL.Except,you know,Russia.And US if it didn’t write off EVERY development.

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              • A-235 is 1. Never demonstrated ability to shoot down maneuvering space object. 2. Is located only around Moscow so would not be able to do anything anywhere else. 3. The nation with the BFR can clear the orbit of offending sats by using BFR, all you need is too push them off orbit. The most Russia can do is to use A235 around Moscow. 4. A-235 is currently without missiles which are supposedly being changed for new ones.

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      • “Those countries do have ICBMs Igor. They also have the technology to shoot down any satellite, including your precious BFR while it is in orbit.”
        ICBMs will be rendered useless by space laser stations that BFR can put in orbit. You realize that cheap lifting capacity was the only thing in the way of Ronald Reagan’ STAR WARS? We got the solid state or fiber electric lasers and we got the batteries and solar panels… Heavy stuff but BFR will be just the thing.
        As far as shooting maneuvering targets in space only one country demonstrated such capability and yes you guessed it, it was USA.

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        • Using ICBMs in response to conventional surgical strike will not happen. There are rules of war, one very important is proportional response. A country which breaks this rule signed it’s own death sentence. So no having ICBMs does not stop other from using conversational weapons against you.

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