Chris Flaherty 2021
Admiral Motti: “This Station is now the ultimate power in the Universe! I suggest we use it!”
Emperor Palpatine: “Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational Battle Station.”
A Space Station, “is a large Spacecraft in Orbit around Earth.” The Orbital Battle Station conceptually is unique to Space Warfare, and has little or no parallels in Terrestrial Earth-Based Warfare. The only exception was the notion of the Floating Battery that appeared in the French Revolution, disappearing in the Post-Civil War period, and which offers many of the same qualities as an Orbital Battle Station. The Floating Battery, was a heavily armed watercraft, but lacked many other qualities of an actual warship, as it was required to be towed into position, withstanding a massive pounding from shore-batteries, and fortifications while delivering a massive amount of firepower in return.
ORBITAL BATTLE STATION: A NOTIONAL CONSTRUCT
The notion of an armed, and/or armoured Orbital Battle Station has few parallels historically, and even in science fiction there are only a few examples , which themselves are based on Space Warfare Strategic Theory of the mid-1950s. It comes in essentially two forms, one version is designed for Human habitation, with the strategic intent, such as seen with the Soviet example:
“[going]… to great trouble and expense to permanently man an Orbital Space Station … That effort was clearly made to strengthen their international claim through the symbol of effective occupation.”
The other version was conceived as an unmanned weapons platform in Space. The most notable examples, come from the United States, where these have been supposedly attributed in public media to various Presidential Administrations. Project Defender – one such attribution, was envisioned to have Orbiting Battle Stations that launched rockets with 60-foot rotating wire nets containing destructive steel pellets. Cancelled by 1968, it had its beginnings in 1958, U.S. scientists wanted to put hundreds of Battle Stations into Orbit. As late as the Bush Administration, “the designs grew ever more grandiose and elaborate, like an Orbital Battle Station bearing no fewer than 3,000 nuclear arms.” The forerunner to the notion of an Orbital Battle Station, was advocated in the early 1950s, “[as it was]… believed that … nuclear-armed
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Space Stations would make Air Force strategic bombers obsolete” . In terms of Space Warfare Strategic Theory:
“An Orbiting Space Station, long envisioned by writers of science fiction, is now viewed as a potentially valuable asset in the development, deployment, operation, maintenance, and recovery of both military and commercial Spacecraft, as well as the conduct of Space operations. Space Station concepts range from the modest, such as the manned habitation module attached to an … [Science and Applications Space Platform] … through a full-blown multiport structure capable of accommodating large crews involved in the construction and service of large Space systems.”
In reality, only one has ever been built and launched into Space – the Soviet Almaz Space Station , this had an externally mounted machine cannon to defend against American astronaut attacks .
THE SOVIET ALMAZ SPACE STATION
The Almaz Space Station was conceived in the 1960s. It was designed to make it easier for the Soviets to search for Sea-Based Targets. It was also believed that having Humans in Orbit would provide a powerful platform for Orbital reconnaissance and allow the rapid changing of targets as battles evolved. The Soviets hid their Almaz making these identical to the Salyut Spacecraft. The first Almaz was in 1973, and it was publicly identified as the Salyut-2. The next two Almaz were publicly identified as Salyut-3, and Salyut-5. An Almaz finally fired its machine cannon in 1975. This weapon is understood to have not been recoilless, and its firing had the potential for shock and recoil. To prevent damaging the Station in the vacuum of Space, from the force of firing the machine cannon which could send it flying in a dangerously unpredictable fashion, the solution was igniting its thrusters simultaneously when firing to counteract the weapon’s powerful recoil.
THE IMAGINED ORBITAL BATTLE STATION
The science fiction portrait of the Orbital Battle Station, is itself a likely outcome, and largely contemporaneous to the early 1950s debate in the United States over the future of strategic nuclear, and conventional bombing. It has been argued,
“one version of the theme that might have been expected to play a far greater role than it actually has in … [the science fiction genre]… is the Space Station as menace, as a weapons-delivery platform in Space easily able to target any point on Earth’s surface; Wernher von Braun suggested precisely this during the Cold War.”
The early strategic notion was harnessing the ability to Circumnavigate the Earth, and launch an attack with ubiquity. There is a close parallel between the Space-Bomber, and the Orbital Battle Station. The Space-Travelling Bomber was intended to make Sub-Orbital Space Flight, or operate in Low Earth Orbit, returning to the Earth’s Atmosphere control landing at an airfield. It was intended as the first U.S.,
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“Space Bomber … capable of circumnavigating the Earth at extreme altitudes and attacking its target with Space-to-Surface missiles.”
Echoed, in the later premise of the Star Wars movies, was a Moon-Sized Battle Station with the ability to destroy an entire planet:
“We call it the Death Star. There is no better name … and the day is coming soon when it will be unleashed.”
In Star Wars lore, the earlier version of the Battle Station was able to be moved from one planetary system to another, and attack worlds. The later version was built into a whole planet and was able to attack planets in the rest of the Galaxy. In the Star Trek TV Series, the DS9, is able to move from its Orbit to a new stationary location at the strategically significant entry to a wormhole . In the mid-1950s, a novelisation told the story of completion and launch of a Manned Space Station . One is mentioned in the book named ‘Yankee Doodle’. The satellite is capable of dropping hydrogen bombs from orbit that are impossible to shoot down. Its launch is used to evict Russians occupying the United States. The ability to threaten the Earth from Space, was central to the late 1960s book plot in the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series. It involved the malevolent global organization – T.H.R.U.S.H., blackmailing the world with a Space Station armed with thermonuclear weapons . This proves to be a bluff using an orbiting balloon made to look like a Wernher von Braun Wheel Satellite . In the late 1970s James Bond film series, the Drax’s Space Station is designed to launch a series of capsules carrying deadly nerve toxin . Attacked by squads of laser armed astronauts, unloaded from a U.S. Space Shuttle, it is defended by its own force of laser armed astronauts, including a main laser cannon.
ORBITING BATTLE STATION AS A THREATENING MICRO-STATE
The Orbital Battle Station as a micro-state that threatens another country, or all of Humanity has appeared a few times in science fiction. The theme in the television-movie Earth II , the United Nations cedes nation-state recognition to a massive Human Habitat Space Station in Earth Orbit. Even though the citizens of the Space Station are fundamentally pacifists, the story plot involves them physically seizing an Orbital weapon posing a strategic challenge to the country that launched it. In Star War’s lore, the Emperor was able to dissolve the Imperial Senate, using the newly constructed Battle Station to enforce rule through fear and coercion. In the later 1970s James Bond movie – Moonraker, the Neo-Nazi Drax, is planning to annihilate the Earth’s Human population, and replace it with his own superior Humans.
The fantasy and Science-Fiction ‘evil power’ Orbital Battle Station allude to a significant issue in Space Warfare Strategic Theory, that focuses on one of the four key regions of Space – “Earth Space” . This covers the region from the lowest possible Orbit through to Geo.
Stationary Orbit; or, “Near-Earth Space” . The conception of the region essentially pivot around the notion of, “control of Earth’s Orbital Space as strategically crucial.” The region of Space – however it is conceived, largely bundles into the ‘high ground’ concept, namely:
“The Space domain encompasses all of these attributes, making Military Spacepower a critical manifestation of the high ground in modern warfare.”
In Astropolitical Theory terms, the domination of Earth from Space is the precursor to global hegemony . This proposition poses a somewhat logical contradiction, with the stated goal of a Space Strategy: ‘the control of Space is not an aim’ . A corollary to this, it is largely a physical impossibility – given the scale of Space, and that all in Space is in motion, in which the Earth constantly spins on its axis as it orbits the Sun, to control any part of Space as an aim. However, the notion of an outside base – large enough, and powerful enough to Orbit the Earth with a capacity to unleash massive destructive power, as a notional concept, is central to the idea of the Orbital Battle Station, from its earliest conception in Space Warfare Strategic Theory, and in fantasy and science fiction.
THE THREAT POSED BY THE ORBITAL BATTLE STATION
The threat posed by the Orbital Battle Station, and banning its implementation was largely the basis of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, that broadly banned the stationing of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Outer Space, and prohibited military activities on celestial bodies . The notion of it, however, never left the strategic imagination.
The Almaz Space Station, and various imagined Orbital Battle Stations attributed to U.S. Presidential Administrations – all arose in the era following the 1967 treaty. The more recent complexity, has been the rise of a distinction between Weaponization, and Militarization of Space, and the notion of dual-use satellite technology. This has meant that a Space Station can be launched, in peace time and used for legitimate use of Space purposes: Civil Reconnaissance, Communications and Navigation; and then at the ‘flick-of-a-switch’, convert to perform the same functions in support of Military Reconnaissance and Surveillance, Intelligence Gathering, Communications, and Aid-to-Navigation and Targeting. In the case of the United States, this sits within:
“treaty obligations prohibit deploying nuclear weapons in Space and limit the use of Orbital Space for ballistic missile defence. In addition, U.S. National-Security Policy has basically eschewed allowing any weapons – whether nuclear or not – to be deployed in Orbit.”
HOW SURVIVABLE IS AN ORBITAL BATTLE STATION?
The question remains in the face of Terrestrial, and Space-Based weapons how survivable is an Orbital Battle Station? At the heart of the original Floating Battery concept created by the
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French engineering officer – Jean Claude Eleonore Le Michaud d’Arcon, at the 1782 siege of Gibraltar, the design used cut-down warships, massively armoured on one side, and counterweighted on the other, and were to be towed into position to attack Gibraltar from the seaward side . In the American Civil War, and Ironclad Age, the Floating Batteries were similarly envisaged as so massively protected by thick plate armour as to be deemed invincible to any penetrative shot. Carrying several or more super-heavy cannon these watercraft were largely incapable of their own propulsion, and had to be assisted into position. Once positioned, the role was that of a Positional Battery
A CASTLE IN SPACE
The role of the Floating Battery in naval warfare, was deployment of a castle-at-sea, was thus two-fold: (1) bring massive firepower against a target, reducing it; and, (2) being so heavily armoured that it could not be counter-attacked or destroyed. Applying the military concept of the Floating Battery to its Space-Based descendent – the Orbital Battle Station, raises a number of issues of how would one of these be constructed. In science fiction, the Emperor’s Battle Station, and Star Trek’s DS9, are portrayed as gigantic, statically located in Space, heavily armoured, and perceived impregnable. Whereas in the Expanse, Mars’ has several Stealth-C Ballistic Missile Platforms, located in Deep-Space, the batteries are protected by advance stealth technology, and are periodically secretly moved to avoid Earth detection . Likewise Drax’s Space Station was concealed from radar detection on Earth. Significantly, the Soviet Almaz Space Station were simply hidden in plain-sight as conventional Salyut Spacecraft, relying on the age-old tactics of surprise, and shock to gain a strategic advantage.
EMERGENCE OF THE ASTEROID-BASED BATTLE STATION
Rather than Earth Orbiting, the Asteroid-Based Battle Station has also been envisaged in science fiction, and in conventional science. In the early 1940s, a permanently staffed Communications Space Station, was written about, it was Trojan positioned (at the L4 Lagrange Point of the Sun-Venus system), relaying messages between Earth, Venus and Mars . In conventional science, a proposal from 2002 looked at the Jupiter Trojans, at the L4 or L5 Lagrange Points) as a potential site to host a permanent Space Base for missiles capable of deflecting the trajectory of dangerous Near Earth Objects . More recently, there has been a proposal to build a massive Human Space-Habitat Megasatellite on Ceres: a dwarf planet, and the largest object in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. The concept included the notion it was armed with lasers, and kinetic kill vehicles, launched from it .
Chris Flaherty authored the Terrorism Research Center’s report – Dangerous Minds (2012). He was the co-primary author, along with Robert J. Bunker of the book – Body Cavity Bombers: The New Martyrs (iUniverse, 2013). Two essays of his, from 2003 and 2010 were reprinted in the Terrorism Research Center’s book – Fifth Dimensional Operations (iUniverse, 2014). He recently contributed a book chapter – The Role of CCTV in Terrorist TTPs, edited by Dave Dilegge, Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, and Alma Keshavarz, the book – Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities, a Small Wars Journal anthology, published on behalf of the Small Wars Foundation with Xlibris (2019). Chris Flaherty is currently a Space & Defense Tech and Security News Regular Contributor.
Contact Details: Dr Chris Flaherty https://au.linkedin.com/in/drchrisflaherty
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