Sunday, March 6, 2016

Unthinkable things which might happen in North Korea and elsewhere

North Korea has put its missiles and nuclear capabilities on hair-trigger readiness, in reaction to the new UN sanctions.

The new stronger sanctions were based on a reasonable conclusion that present trends in North Korea are 'way too risky to neglect, and that we need to bite the bullet on what happens there. Nevertheless, when we bite a bullet... will we get badly hurt, as part of the price, and will we ever be free of the worst case?

We should not be intimidated by those people, but what happens if in fact the guy is as crazy as we think he might be and he actually does launch something as his internal situation gets worse and worse? (Or, on another level, what does he see of our vulnerability?)

It is good that the US is deploying more antimissile capabilities to the area, but if all we get is hit-to-kill over the ocean or over South Korea, will a lot of people die in South Korea itself in any case?

This reminds me of how we COULD have had affordable space-based boost phase intercept by now,
above all if sheer corruption had not blocked our development of low-cost mass access to space. It makes a big difference whether the interception occurs over South Korea or over the launch site (North Korea or at least close to North Korea). If a major part of North Korea becomes a sea of glass as a consequence of THEM launching a nuclear missile (soon or ten years from now), that is a whole lot different from a major part of South Korea being fried that way. The world would be rather shaken up if the US replied to a North Korea strike on South Korea by turning North Korea itself into a sea of glass; it would be a whole lot less unpleasant if North Korea did that itself as a direct result of its own nucs, with far less damage to South Korea. The difference between today's antimissile capabilities and boost phase intercept is really huge, when we get realistic about the kinds of dilemmas  we may be facing in the future,

Why don't we have this capability? I remember when Lockheed and others discussed this option at a meeting in the Marshall Institute, and I went back to the legislative director for Senator Specter (on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee at that time) to ask about it. "The reason we don't do it is very simple. Too much cost." The cost would be orders of magnitude less if we implemented
a design for reusable launch vehicles, initially developed by Boeing but refined by Ramon Chase of ANSER about ten years gao, backed up by lots of peer-reviewed publications in AIAA venues and elsewhere (including rigorously peer-reviewed NSF-funded work). The cost estimate of $200/pound-LEO (and near term availability) withstood very intense scrutiny... and with that... we could have gone ahead and had protection from the very, very serious problems emerging here and now (and not going away soon).  Not perfect protection, but enough to prevent the much more serious worst case possibilities in play more and more. A factor of ten reduction in the likely cost to humanity of such bad things, which would cost a whole lot more than the new RLV, which would have many other profitable civilian benefits as well, important to sustainability in the larger picture.

Makes me wonder: would anyone in South Korea be interested in developing the core launch capability which the US should have done many years ago, and did not because some folks wanted to use the NASA budget as a cash cow jobs program and wanted to keep the world from following up on really serious alternative technology? (I saw quite a bit in my personal presence.)

At one point, I was hoping that maybe Donald Trump might crack down on the kind of corporate welfare legalized corruption which has prevented the US from developing what it could have... what we lost when Senator Shelby asked for Admiral Steidel's head on a platter.. but this week, a Politico story said, roughly: "Since Trump says he will be the new Teddy Roosevelt, cracking down on legalized corruption... the debate asked him how. He said 'just abolish EPA and Department of Education.'" Oops!! That's not what would get us a new RLV or boost phase interception!! It's more like what Lindsay Graham said ... a choice of a firing squad, versus the other guy's poison... and a third guy's calm support of Cheney style stuff which risks World War by another direct path.

Best of luck. We really need it.

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