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2008-09-30 Science & Technology
ICBMs for everyone?
A private enterprise company, funded by a California internet entrepreneur, has successfully boosted a payload into orbit:

"Fourth time's a charm," said Elon Musk, the multimillionaire who started up Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to make space launches more affordable.

The Falcon 1 rocket carried a 364-pound dummy payload designed and built by SpaceX for the launch. Musk pledged to continue getting rockets into orbit, saying the company has resolved design issues that plagued previous attempts.


Falcon 1, a 70-foot-long rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, is the first in a family of low-cost launch vehicles priced at $7.9 million each.

Besides the Falcon 1, SpaceX is developing for NASA a larger launch vehicle, Falcon 9, capable of flying to the international space station when the current space shuttle fleet retires in 2010.

Although upfront development costs were undoubtedly substantial, $7.9 million for an orbital launcher does not seem much of an obstacle. The implication is that orbital payload capability would seem to be within reach for a long list of both state and non-state actors.

Such a prospect results in an immense challenge for defense planners. Although the U.S. has made great achievements over the past several years on missile defense, this progress was aided by being able to make certain reasonable assumptions about the enemy’s launch locations. Missile interception with kinetic kill vehicles is an exercise in physics and geometry. Locating interceptors in Alaska and California takes care of the North Korean threat, while interceptors in central Europe cover the future Iranian threat. But the interceptors at these sites cannot cover threats from other locations, due to the limitations of physics.

If non-state actors can establish intercontinental ballistic missile-range launch sites in any direction, the current U.S. missile defense scheme would become untenable. Pentagon planners would need to design an entirely new approach to the problem.

And the threat of proliferating ICBM capability makes the menace of an electro-magnetic pulse attack especially worrisome.

Naturally, potential terror adversaries still have many technical hurdles to overcome. Nuclear warheads are very complicated and very difficult to miniaturize. Rocket science isn’t easy. It would be very difficult for an adversary to keep secret his testing program and missile-basing projects.

But the lesson from the SpaceX success is that the barriers to entry for many dangerous technologies are falling rapidly. ICBMs used to be available to only the most wealthy and technically sophisticated nation-states. Soon, it seems like anyone will be able to get them.
Posted by Uncle Phester 2008-09-30 13:42|| E-Mail|| Front Page|| [6459 views ]  Top

#1 One can only hope DoS is on this and watching for any potential sales. This is already on the Arms Control List for ITAR and if a fraudulent shipping document is discovered these guys need to be hammered and hard. and if the good have already left the US, then they need found and hammered, hard also.
Posted by USN, Ret. 2008-09-30 14:17||   2008-09-30 14:17|| Front Page Top

#2 SpaceX didn't get a _working_ booster until they built a regeneratively cooled liquid fueled rocket engine.

This is a non-trivial piece of technology, and they burned through over a hundred million or so dollars building it, going through several iterations.
Posted by Tranquil Mechanical Yeti 2008-09-30 14:26||   2008-09-30 14:26|| Front Page Top

#3 It's the 21ist century and it's nuts to be against ballistic missile defense.

And I still want my flying car, dammit.
Posted by Minister of funny walks 2008-09-30 14:41||   2008-09-30 14:41|| Front Page Top

#4 That is why laser based space, air and ground systems are necessary as well.
Posted by DarthVader 2008-09-30 14:41||   2008-09-30 14:41|| Front Page Top

#5 Cost-per-pound to: LEO? Higher orbits? Escape velocity?

Press releases are mostly info-free zones.
Posted by mojo">mojo  2008-09-30 14:46||   2008-09-30 14:46|| Front Page Top

#6 We cannot keep nukes, ICBMs, etc., out of the hands of others forever woth present social structures. DarthVarder is right. We need to develop effective defenses against these these weapons as soon as possible after getting the offense weapons developed. Defensive lasers now!
Posted by Richard of Oregon 2008-09-30 14:54||   2008-09-30 14:54|| Front Page Top

#7 Tranquil Mechanical Yeti welcome aboard.

Rather interesting & facinating name BTW...

Is this your first incarnation here at Rantburg?

or is it your current iteration's first visit to Rantburg? >:)
Posted by RD">RD  2008-09-30 15:00||   2008-09-30 15:00|| Front Page Top

#8 Minister funny walks is our most amusing hilarious nym!
Posted by RD">RD  2008-09-30 15:04||   2008-09-30 15:04|| Front Page Top

#9 I'm partial to "Sock Puppet of Doom" myself.
Posted by Darrell 2008-09-30 15:57||   2008-09-30 15:57|| Front Page Top

#10 Maybe we should build a new civilization deep underground.
Posted by Ulusoling Hatfield4645 2008-09-30 16:01||   2008-09-30 16:01|| Front Page Top

#11 If the rocket has a stupid little picture of a house in the clouds and road leading up to it, I will be concerned.
Posted by swksvolFF 2008-09-30 16:09||   2008-09-30 16:09|| Front Page Top

#12 No, I'm not new. Apparently there was starting to be confusion between Abdominal Snowman and AutoBartender, since one abbreviated to AB and the other to AS.

I switched to this one to avoid having him blamed for my catastrophic posts.

(Although if you believe I'm mechanical I guess I have a shot at making you believe I'm tranquil.

Posted by Tranquil Mechanical Yeti 2008-09-30 16:10||   2008-09-30 16:10|| Front Page Top

#13 You can find payload and pricing information.
Falcon 1
Falcon 9
Falcon 9 Heavy

The Falcon 1 is sized halfway between a Trident C4 and D5. Pricing says:
LEO (185km)
Falcon 1: 420kg $7.9M
Falcon 1e: 1010kg $9.1M

That's less than 1/2 the often quoted $10,000/lb commercial rate but the altitude is also a lot less than an LEO orbit of 250-300km. More interesting is the Falcon 9 launching 4-5000kg to geosynchronous orbit for $47-57M. That's the price range the Russians used to charge in the early 2000's with their decommissioned ICBMs. If Space-X can meet that then it is probably 60-80% what the Russians/Ukrainians are now charging.
Posted by ed 2008-09-30 17:01||   2008-09-30 17:01|| Front Page Top

#14 cue the Far Side, "now the Hendersons have the Bomb!"
Posted by Querent 2008-09-30 17:17||   2008-09-30 17:17|| Front Page Top

#15 The Russkies won't like that. But I do.
Posted by mojo">mojo  2008-09-30 17:18||   2008-09-30 17:18|| Front Page Top

#16 I am all for SpaceX.

NASA has been a disaster except for JPL stuff.

SpaceX will have a crewed rocket to ISS before NASA even gets blueprints done for it's shuttle replacement.

Let free enterprise go into space!
The state has dropped the ball on space!
Posted by 3dc 2008-09-30 18:18||   2008-09-30 18:18|| Front Page Top

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