US designing space-based missile interceptors and space sensors to counter hypersonic missiles

The US Missile Defense Agency and Defense Department have started designing space-based missile interceptors and space sensor that will be used for missile defenses and hypersonic defense.

Rich Abott, Defense Daily, reported statements made at Wednesdays Space and Missile Defense Symposium.

The director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves said the agency is developing options to pursue space-based interceptor capability.

Griffin believes that detailed work can find affordable approaches. Many old designs had unrealistically high, uninformed cost estimates. Griffin said he has seen up to 50 cost estimates but none were recent so we do not know costs at this point.

Griffin believes space-based interceptors to go after ballistic missiles in the boost phase is a relatively easy technological challenge.

The U.S. is developing a range of hypersonic attack capabilities from near-term deployment options to longer-term Air Force and DARPA air-breathing efforts like the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon program (called Hacksaw) and the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (called Arrow).

Griffin does not know which hypersonic attack systems will win out. He said that is why we have DARPA, to explore advanced technological options.

Griffin has said that U.S. has always been at the forefront of developing hypersonic technology, but did not weaponize the results of that research. Russia and China have chosen to weaponize it. That’s the challenge. The US will respond.

Griffin was more concerned about Chinese hypersonic weapons developments than Russia’s.

China has been more thoughtful in their hypersonic systems development because they are developing long-range tactical precision-guided systems that could be really influential in a conventional fight.

Griffin said the only real way to reliably track hypersonic weapons is from space, beyond the horizon limits of terrestrial radars. Hypersonics are about a factor of 10 dimmer than strategic ballistic missiles so they cannot be monitored from a high orbit.

Experimental aircraft with the prototype low Earth orbit (LEO) Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellites show hypersonic tracking is possible and is not a technology challenge. There is a policy-decision-making challenge to decide about a LEO space layer sensor layer.

Nextbigfuture has noted that the SpaceX BFR would make putting anything into space about ten to one hundred times cheaper

The SpaceX BFR could be used to deploy space-based sensors and hypersonic defenses using the current US military space budget of $40 billion per year. This next section was Nextbigfuture speculation and putting what has been said about SpaceX BFR together with prior space-based weapon and defense work.

In 2017, Elon Musk’s video announcement of the Spacex BFR showed launching the BFR lower cost to launch than the Spacex Falcon 1. A graphic showed the Spacex BFR at lower cost than the Falcon 1.

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.

An Congressional analysis of hypersonic weapons also looked at modifying ballistic missiles to have non-nuclear warheads. The Navy looked closely at tungsten rod kinetic energy weapons on several occasions.

A 47 page Congressional Research Bureau report Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues was written by Amy F. Woolf, Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy.
Kinetic Energy Warheads

The Navy considered two types of warheads for the CTM program in the near term. One warhead would be designed to destroy or disable area targets like airfields or buildings, using a reentry vehicle loaded with tungsten rods—known as flechettes—that would rain down on the target and destroy everything within an area of up to 3,000 square feet. The other might be able to destroy hardened targets, like underground bunkers or reinforced structures, if it were accurate enough to strike very close to the target. Each would be deployed within the reentry body developed and tested under the E2 program. The Navy also explored, for possible future deployment, technologies that might be able to penetrate to destroy hardened, buried targets

The two primary advantages of a kinetic energy rod warhead is that 1) it does not rely on precise navigation as is the case with “hit-to-kill” vehicles and 2) it provides better penetration then blast fragmentation type warheads.

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 mass of such a cylinder is itself greater than 9 tons, so it is clear that the practical applications of such a system are limited to those situations where its other characteristics provide a decisive advantage—a conventional bomb/warhead of similar weight to the tungsten rod, delivered by conventional means, provides similar destructive capability and is a far more practical method. Some other sources suggest a speed of 36,000 ft/s (11,000 m/s), which for the aforementioned rod would amount to a kinetic energy equivalent to 120 tons of TNT or 0.12 kt. 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 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 (e.g. Hit-To-Kill Missiles or megawatt-class chemical laser)

There is a Raytheon patent Kinetic energy rod warhead with optimal penetrators

Project Thor Orbital Rods from God

Project Thor was an idea for a weapons system that launches kinetic projectiles from Earth’s orbit to damage targets on the ground.

At speeds of at least 9 kilometers per second. Smaller weapons can deliver measured amounts of energy as large as a 225 kg conventional bomb. Some systems are quoted as having the yield of a small tactical nuclear bomb. These designs are envisioned as a bunker busters.

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