Of all the far-fetched space weapons hyped by the Times last month, "Rods from God" are probably the most dubious. That doesn't stop the Weekly Standard from panting about how totally wicked awesome it would be if the Air Force really could drop giant tungsten slabs from orbit, however.
The system could represent a tremendous leap forward in the military's ability to destroy underground, hardened facilities of the type that have allowed Iran and other rogue states to violate the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty with impunity...Iran has used deeply buried facilities to shelter its nuclear program... This has limited America's options for intervention. A conventional attack on such facilities might succeed in setting the Iranian program back a few years, but due to the presumed dispersal of equipment over a number of sites across the Islamic Republic, only good intelligence and a great deal of luck would eliminate the threat entirely. And while a nuclear attack could be tactically successful, it is politically unviable. A few well-placed tungsten rods, however, would guarantee the destruction of the targeted facilities.And so on. It's not until the 9th paragraph (of a 12-graph story) that the Standard reveals, "the likelihood of the rods, or any other system, being deployed in space over the next decade [are] next to nil.'" What's never mentioned at all is the opinion of many physicists that the rods would only be a small fraction as effective as conventional bombs.There is room, however, for a wee scare tactic before the story is through.
It's likely that space will be weaponized. The only question is whether the U.S. Air Force or [China's] People's Liberation Army will be at the vanguard of the revolution.(Big ups: Geek Press, Dr. J)THERE'S MORE: Interestingly, the most sober moments in the Standard story read an awful lot like Popular Science's June '04 take on the rods. Here's the Standard:
[The rods are] at least 10 years away from being operational, and the cost of launching heavy tungsten rods into orbit would be, well, astronomical. Other financial challenges include the satellite's "absentee-ratio," which refers to number of satellites, or in this case bundles of rods, which would be necessary to assure proximity to the target.Furthermore, it may be necessary to slow substantially the rods' rate of speed to prevent them from vaporizing on impact--though retrorockets might offer a solution to this problem. Simply attaching a tungsten rod to the tip of an ICBM would overcome many of these hurdles.And here's PopSci:
If so-called "Rods from God"... ever do materialize, it wont be for at least 15 years. Launching heavy tungsten rods into space will require substantially cheaper rocket technology than we have today. But there are numerous other obstacles to making such a system work.... The rods speed would be so high that they would vaporize on impact, before the rods could penetrate the surface. Furthermore, the "absentee ratio" -- the fact that orbiting satellites circle the Earth every 100 minutes and so at any given time might be far from the desired targetwould be prohibitive. A better solution, Pike argues, is to pursue the original concept: Place the rods atop intercontinental ballistic missiles, which would slow down enough during the downward part of their trajectory to avoid vaporizing on impact.Hmmmm.