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TETHERS: SATELLITES' SAVIOR?

How could satellites be saved from nuclear attack? Simple, the Pentagon says: with giant, electrically charged space-ropes.First, a little context. These days, it's hard to imagine the U.S. military doing much of anything without using satellites. Guiding bombs, relaying orders, spying on adbad guys' hideouts -- all of that is done from orbit.But with one nice-sized nuclear blast in space, it'd all be over. The satellites would be no better than scrap. Kiss a couple trillion bucks in hardware -- and just about every Pentagon strategy of the past few years -- goodbye.RadiationBelts3.jpg So what to do? Satellites can be hardened against radiation -- the new ones, anyway. But armoring the machines already in orbit would cost way, way too much. So Darpa, the Pentagon's mad-science division, is starting to look at ways to clean up radiation in space, Defense News reports. (We mentioned this project in passing a few months back.)One idea is to use '"electrodynamic-static space tethers' that would remove highly charged radiation particles." And no, as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up."The tethers would be carried by satellites in low Earth orbit and cut across magnetic field lines, inducing electromagnetic current that would dilute the nuclear radiation and push it away from satellites, a government official said.DARPA is seeking $2.8 million for the space tether effort, a new program in its 2005 budget request.Under that effort, DARPA plans to develop hardware for placement on a "small, high-powered" satellite platform, and conduct tether experiments in low Earth orbit that would include "high-energy electron remediation."One company -- Lynnwood, Washington's Tethers Unlimited, has already proposed such a plan. Both NASA and Darpa are already funding the firm's research.

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