Sen. Jay Rockefeller put Capitol Hill -- or, at least, it's defense wonk division -- in a bit of a tizzy Wednesday, when he criticized a classified spy program as "totally unjustified and very, very wasteful and dangerous to the national security."So the AP decided to read some tea leaves, and figure out which program Rockefeller was talking about. Their conclusion: "Almost certainly a spy satellite system, perhaps with technology to destroy potential attackers."
Rockefeller's description of the spy project as a "major funding acquisition program" suggests a price tag in the range of billions of dollars, intelligence experts said. But even expensive imagery or eavesdropping satellites - so long as they're unarmed - are rarely criticized as a danger to U.S. security, they noted.As regular Defense Tech readers know, the Pentagon has a whole stack of projects, in varying stages of development, to strike evil-doers in space. In October, the Air Force declared operational it's radio frequency-based satellite jammer, the Counter Communications System. Back in January of 2003, the Defense Department launched its Experimental Satellite Series (XSS), which is developing pint-size orbiters, largely for offensive purposes. Recently-revealed XSS designs include a "blocker" microsat, which uses a "circular, gimbaled, opaque fan" to stop up enemy communications in space. There's also an orbiting "grabber," equipped with a mechanical arm, meant for "docking with and reorientation of enemy spacecraft." With this "grapple feature," the mini-ship will "attach itself to [an] enemy satellite, [and] benignly cause disorientation."Satellites from hostile countries aren't the only ones which could be blocked or grabbed by the American machines. In a recent report, the Air Force declared that orbiters from neutral nations, private companies -- even weather satellites -- were all on the target list, too.