Even before he became George Bush's Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld was spooked about a "space Pearl Harbor" a surprise attack on America's satellites. Now that he's headed for a likely second term at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld and his deputies are getting even more jittery about a hostile strike in orbit.To begin with, nobody at the Pentagon nobody anywhere, in fact really has a firm grasp on what's actually out there, circling the Earth. There are dozens of satellites, thousands of pieces of man-made debris, as well as an array of space rocks. But no one's quite sure of where, exactly, it all is.Aviation Week quotes a "nightmare" that the country's top military space officer sometimes shares with his colleagues: "A phone call from the White House asking, 'What happened to our satellite? And what are you doing about it?' With few exceptions, today's response will be the same as a former Cincspace [Command-in-Chief of Space Operations] gave the Vice President several years ago: 'We don't know, and there's not much we can do."'Everyone agrees that the first step to satellite defense is to get some sort of sense of what's happening in orbit. But the job of setting up this "Space Situational Awareness" has been bogged down in the bureaucratic muck. "There are now "99 organizations participating in 79 different meetings, conferences or forums, while using 91 separate SSA tools and systems -- [all] stovepiped and on their own course," Rear Adm. Thomas Zelibor, global operations director for U.S. Strategic Command, told Aviation Week.In Rumsfeld's "space Pearl Harbor" report, the once-and-future Defense Secretary worried about adversaries attacking U.S. satellite ground stations, jamming GPS signals, or even setting off a nuclear bomb in space. Rumsfeld also warned about enemies developing ground-based lasers, or anti-satellite spacecraft that might, one day, be able to take out American orbiters.But these "alarmist judgment[s] [are] not based on the available evidence," Jeffrey Lewis argues in Arms Control Today. "Indeed, a fair reading of unclassified intelligence estimates and the Pentagons own official statements suggest countries are not investing the time, money, and energy needed for such efforts."Ground-based lasers that can strike into space that's more science fiction than science, Lewis says. Russia, the only country to test anti-satellites, last did so in 1982. And American satellites have, so far, shown themselves impervious to jamming.The Defense Department is less than reassured, however. Late last month, the Air Force officials declared their first anti-satellite weapon -- a radio frequency-based jammer -- ready to go.THERE'S MORE: TM Lutas cautions against "overlooking a credible threat."
While no nation-state seems to be concentrating on anti-satellite weaponry, that does not mean that there is no threat. Hijacking an upcoming launch and loading low-tech threats like ball bearings for orbital deployment is something that needs to be countered...There is no reason to panic or have a crash program but there are credible, growing threats in my opinion and they will multiply as private orbital rocketry becomes popular and lift costs drop... I don't think it's unrealistic to start thinking about stuff that is in the 20 year time horizon.