Spacex BFR and developing the high ground is the geopolitical game changer

There is a lot of talk about a hypersonic weapons arms race to create missiles and then a decade later hypersonic drones and then a decade after that hypersonic spy planes and fighter planes.

It will cost tens of billions to develop these weapons for the USA, China, Russia and other nations.

However, the USA will be gifted complete space dominance via Spacex fully reusable rockets. The US already has superior space capabilities versus other countries.

In Elon Musk’s video announcement of the Spacex BFR he indicated that it would be lower cost to launch than the Spacex Falcon 1. A graphic showed the Spacex BFR at lower cost than the Falcon 1.

In 2005 Falcon 1 was advertised as costing $5.9 million ($7.3 million when adjusted for inflation in 2015). In 2006 until 2007 the quoted price of the rocket when operational was $6.7 million. In late 2009 SpaceX announced new prices for the Falcon 1 and 1e at $7 million and $8.5 million respectively, with small discounts available for multi-launch contracts.

This would mean at $7 million the Spacex BFR launch 150 tons would have less than a $50 per pound launch cost.

By 2025, there could be a fleet of 100 BFR. Each could be flying 10-50 times per year if there the market for launches can be grown with $40-200 per pound launch costs.

The USA could triple that production and buy a separate fleet of 200 Spacex BFR. If each cost $200 million, then it would cost $40 billion. This would be less than the planned spend for the Space Launch System which would have one or two flights per year. The USA could fly each 50 times and get 10,000 launches per year. For $7 million each flight that would be $70 billion per year to operate at maximum capacity.

The US already spends $40 billion on spy satellites and military space program. Fully leveraging Spacex BFR fleet would mean the trivial deployment of Project Thor plus the ability to have a space corp of a hundred thousand or more people permanently station in various orbits, the moon, cislunar and other locations.

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.

Project Thor is an idea for a weapons system that launches telephone pole-sized kinetic projectiles made from tungsten from Earth’s orbit to damage targets on the ground. Jerry Pournelle originated the concept while working in operations research at Boeing in the 1950s before becoming a science-fiction writer.

The system most often described is “an orbiting tungsten telephone pole with small fins and a computer in the back for guidance”. The system described in the 2003 United States Air Force report was that of 20-foot-long (6.1 m), 1-foot-diameter (0.30 m) tungsten rods, that are satellite controlled, and have global strike capability, with impact speeds of Mach 10.

The time between deorbit and impact would only be a few minutes, and depending on the orbits and positions in the orbits, the system would have a worldwide range. There would be no need to deploy missiles, aircraft or other vehicles. Although the SALT II (1979) prohibited the deployment of orbital weapons of mass destruction, it did not prohibit the deployment of conventional weapons. The system is not prohibited by either the Outer Space Treaty or the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The idea is that the weapon would naturally contain a large kinetic energy, because it moves at orbital velocities, at least 8 kilometers per second. As the rod would approach Earth it would necessarily lose most of the velocity, but the remaining energy would cause considerable damage. Some systems are quoted as having the yield of a small tactical nuclear bomb. These designs are envisioned as a bunker buster. As the name suggests, the ‘bunker buster’ is powerful enough to destroy a nuclear bunker. With 6–8 satellites on a given orbit, a target could be hit within 12–15 minutes from any given time, less than half the time taken by an ICBM and without the launch warning. Such a system could also be equipped with sensors to detect incoming anti-ballistic missile-type threats and relatively light protective measures to use against them.

In the case of the system mentioned in the 2003 Air Force report above, a 6.1 m × 0.3 m tungsten cylinder impacting at Mach 10 has a kinetic energy equivalent to approximately 11.5 tons of TNT (or 7.2 tons of dynamite).

The US Space fleet could clean up the 500,000 pieces of space debris (20,000 pieces larger than a softball) and could hold the space debris in a space station warehouse. The junk would then also be able to formed into junk rods. A thousand smaller rods could be produced without having to fly specifically dedicated tungsten rods.

This would be a very credible anti-missile system and a deterrent to any trivial nuclear missile capability from Iran and North Korea.

It would also mean that Russia and China’s nuclear ICBMs would be less valuable militarily. Russia and China would have to depend upon nuclear armed submarines and submarine drones. Plus they would have to develop comparable reusable rocket capability.

Russia would still be able to use underwater nuclear weapons to create tsunami attacks. Also, near shore submarine launched attacks would be pretty quick and tough to defend even for Project Thor.

The only reasons not to upgrade to this kind of space capability are

1. Corruption where they choose to have a weaker capability so they can continue to pay Lockheed and established contractors
2. Utter incompetence and inability to break out of old thinking
3. Wanting to not go to the next levels and stick with existing “unsolvable problems”