Sunny, With a 75% Chance of Air Superiority


Some Air Force weapons simulators act like our biggest enemies just don't exist. Why? Because the programs get their data from friendly ground weather-monitoring stations. And when there aren't any stations in a particular country, you get "an inconvenient Iran-shaped blank on the map."That may be about to change, thanks to some collaboration between a civilian space program and the Department of Defense.On Friday, a NASA satellite named CloudSat took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Unlike traditional radar weather satellites, which can only take two-dimensional snapshots of clouds (think Weather Channel radar maps), CloudSat can take three-dimensional profiles of the atmosphere, measuring how clouds, aerosol particles and precipitation are distributed vertically.CloudSat.jpgThis atmospheric data has lots of scientific uses, which is why scientists are pretty excited about the new satellite.But the goods that CloudSat will deliver also sound like exactly what the Air Force needs in order to take the next step with HELEEOS -- its realistic, operational simulation of high-energy laser weapons. Maybe thats why CloudSats Advisory Group, charged with "expand[ing] the usefulness and future application of CloudSat data," includes representatives from both the Naval Research Lab and the Airborne Laser Program Office the DODs leading laser weapons program.While CloudSat seems to be a good model for civilian-military collaboration on space assets, resource-sharing in space doesnt always work out so smoothly. A recent case demonstrates where this type of sharing can create annoying conflicts of interest.For over a decade now, the DOD has been working to merge its meteorological assets with the civilian National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the folks who give you the National Weather Service); at the same time, NOAA is working more and more closely with EUMETSAT, the European civilian weather-satellite agency.While this little love triangle is reducing a lot of expensive redundancy, it also raises a hairy conflict of interest: EUMETSATs mission is to "ensure that citizens of every country of our remarkable planet will continue to benefit from the most accurate, safe and reliable operational Earth observations" (read: to hand out its data to everyone), while the DODs goal is, obviously, to make sure that our guys have better data than the bad guys.The DOD seems to have won the first round of fighting that resulted from this conflict of interests. The upcoming European MetOp-1 satellite will include a few instruments provided by the two US agencies, and the Department of Defense therefore wants to be able to block third-party access to weather data from the system in an emergency. After negotiations went down to the eleventh hour, the Europeans finally agreed to a compromise that will allow the DOD to decide when to push the data-denial button, but allow EUMETSAT to do the actual button-pushing.Back in 2004, the Department of Defense prevailed in another confrontation with the European Union, this one over Galileo, the EUs answer to the DODs Global positioning System. In the Galileo flap, the USs demands were even higher than in the back-and-forth over MetOp: not only did we insist on the right to jam Galileos signal in case of an emergency, we demanded that the EU design Galileo in such a way that we could jam it without affecting GPS.All of these disputes were resolved successfully, and with the US military getting its way. This happened in part because the US military also represented NATO - which made it a lot easier for us to argue that whats best for us is best for the Europeans, too.But as both militaries and civilian economies become more dependent on space, and as the US government continues to merge its military and civilian orbital resources, look for more of these turf wars to crop up. The two sides that wont always come round to seeing eye to eye as easily as they did in these cases. Lets just hope this wont lead to any shootouts on the final frontier.-- Haninah Levine

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