Space weaponization presentation

MAtthew Hoey, a research associate at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, passed along a note that the slides from a presentation he gave on “United States Military Space Systems – The Road Ahead” last month are now online. Hoey argues that the “monopoly” held by the “Big 6″ defense contractors (Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Orbital) is now slipping as new, smaller companies (like SpaceDev, MicroSat Systems, and SpaceX) enter the market. His presentation touches on developments like Operationally Responsive Space and the interest in the US military in both protecting space assets and finding ways to deny space assets to opponents.

While this presentation is free of some of the fearmongering and hyperbole seen in some space weaponization presentations, Hoey does perhaps overstate some of his claims. While the military is open to working with smaller companies, the so-called “Big 6″ still get the vast majority of funding, particularly on missile defense projects. In another slide, he claims that Microcosm will be offering low-cost rapid-response launch in 24 months (emphasis in original); given that Microcosm lost out on the FALCON small launch vehicle downselect and is seeking alternative sources of funding, that timetable seems highly unlikely. He also overstates the importance of the ESPA ring, an adapter that allows EELV launches to carry several small satellites as secondary payloads; it appears that the ESPA ring will be used only sparingly (perhaps once every two years?) and there’s no guarantee it will become the adapter of choice for smallsat payloads.

8 comments to Space weaponization presentation

  • Paul Dietz

    Microcosm has been working on their pressure-fed launcher concept for a very long time. This suggests to me they’re funding limited.

  • Dwayne A. Day

    Some of the text:

    “And militaries rely more on space without rules–space asset protection will be needed and the ability to inflict damage similar to economic sanctions can be done without UN consensus and instead achieved via taking out a single satellite.”

    “What you have just viewed is a snap-shot of military space and dual-use technologies that are in various stages of research and development…”

    “What is possible and what is not: Some of these systems may be ‘dream’ technologies that will never reach the point of deployment. For systems that are technically possible, we must ask: Are they desirable? If deployed, what impact will these systems have on the dynamics of international security? Will the impact be positive or negative? If negative, what steps might be taken to prevent such developments? One thing is certain: The time for international negotiations to create a treaty banning weapons in space is long overdue-the time to act is now.”

    I’ll note several things from this. First, the only companies mentioned are American ones (with the exception of Surrey, mentioned in passing). Second, the only programs mentioned are American ones. Third (a redundant point, admittedly), there is no mention of any foreign military space programs.

    Clearly what the author is concerned about are American military space programs. And clearly what the author wants to restrict are American military space programs. “Arms control” in this context means restricting American actions, not in restricting the actions of other countries. And there is an a priori assumption that “UN consensus” should be reached before the United States takes any military action in space.

    The closing paragraph of the briefing also seems to answer its own question–the author asks if these programs are “positive” or “negative” on international security, but then concludes that arms control is needed. But if the programs are “positive,” then no arms control (to prevent them) would be necessary, right?

    It seems like he has already reached a conclusion–it is necessary to enact arms control to restrict American military space programs.

  • While I am not a priori against weapons in space, I see little advantage to the United States of being the first in recent history to deploy certain kinds weapons (e.g., anti-satellite) and thereby encourage other nations to do the same. It is very much to our advantage to delay the widespread implementation of this development as long as possible. Arms control and forebarance are not necessarily the same thing and sometimes the latter can have great benefits. (For example, even in arms control, the general, global, and usually successful reluctance to use chemical weapons has hardly harmed the United States. Likewise, I’m not sure that the dismantlement of MIRVed ICBMs has been bad for either the United States or the world.)

    Regarding the “big six,” it is worth noting the Orbital certainly would not have been put in this group even a few years ago. It may be rare but it is clearly possible for entreprenurial companies to grow into big aerospace providers. While there may not be a direct connection, its worth noting that Orbital has played relatively few of the financial games (e.g., corporate buyouts, takeovers, etc.) that so many American companies insist on playing. For the most part, they have concentrated on producing their products and grown organically. It’s worked for them, and I wish other American companies would take the lesson to heart.

    — Donald

  • David Davenport

    Orbital’s stock is going down. They may be a distant 6th in the Big-ass 6.

    One thing is certain: The time for international negotiations to create a treaty banning weapons in space is long overdue-the time to act is now.

    We can’t depend on treaties to protect the USA. Foreigners are liars.

    In addition, these military treaties often turn out to be irrelevant to emerging weapons systems. Check the history of warship building treaties in the 1920’s.

  • AJ Mackenzie

    Orbital’s stock is going down.

    Huh? ORB has been holding steady at around $12 for the last few months, after going up steadily since May; it’s within about $1 of its 52-week high. Your statement is, as you yourself are so fond of saying, “factually incorrect.”

    Still, it seems a little odd to lump Orbital in with companies like Boeing and LockMart. Although without missile defense contracts they probably couldn’t afford to keep their space launch vehicles in operation…

  • David Davenport

    ORB closed today at $12.44. It was about $14 in July ’04. ORB never has regained that July ’04 peak.


  • David Davenport

    ORB has been trending up from what looks like an inflection point at $9 in May ’05, so maybe it’s going to beat its 2004 highpoint.

    Does anybody know what the bad news was for Orbital in early 2005??

  • I bought my first Orbital stock well over a decade ago at circa $11 a share. It went through at least a decade of decline, and slow rise, as the company added more military work to its commerce portfolio.

    It’s interesting to note that their first product, an upper stage for the Shuttle, was essentially a failure. As I recall, it only flew once. Some of the company’s other ideas (to be cheritable) have been before their times, but so far the company has always recovered.

    As SpaceX plans to take on Orbital’s primary launch business, I have considered selling, but have not done so just yet. Over the years, Orbital has shown great skill at adapting to changing markets. Certainly, they were at the right place at the right time with their small geocomsat.

    — Donald