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« Security Hole in Mac OS 10.3 | Main | Policy Disconnect Followup »

From Hobby To Horror?

Jay Manifold has some disturbing thoughts on the recent successful amateur space launch. He's right--we are going to have to come up with some smart solutions to this problem, or we may remain bound to the planet, which is just one of many ways in which the terrorists could win.

This is, of course, a generic problem with the development of any advanced technology as it becomes increasingly less advanced, and available to a wider distribution of people on the bell curve, both in terms of judgement and evil intent. This was one of the things that had Bill Joy's knickers in a knot a few years ago.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 19, 2004 08:24 AM
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Of course, GPS makes it even simpler to target a specific location on the ground. A terrorist would get more media attention with even a minor "Black Sunday" style attack on the Superbowl. And he'd be long gone before the rocket was traced to it's source.

Connecting a GPS receiver to model airplane controls via a pocket PC is even more trivial. Recently a small group of hobbyists flew a tiny model airplane across the Atlantic this way. A terrorist wouldn't have to enter the country to launch his micro-budget cruise missile.

(Name withheld, because this is the sort of message that gets you into government databases regardless of intentions. Probably as it should be.)

Posted by Anonomous Coward at May 19, 2004 11:29 AM

Well, as we have already learned, an airliner is extremely dangerous. So is a truck filled with fertilizer. On one hand, there will need to be regulation of large private rockets. On the other hand, this demonstrates again how vulnerable our satellites are, and that we need to get serious about satellite defense. We are far to dependent on them to leave them defenseless.

Posted by VR at May 19, 2004 01:13 PM

And not just satellite defense, but cheap access to space to quickly replace destroyed sats. Say within a few hours from on hand reserves.

Posted by Jeff Arnall at May 19, 2004 01:32 PM

Commercially available GPS receivers and engines have around 60,000 feet and about 1000 knots limits, deliberately so. The limits may or may not apply simultaneously.

You need a demonstrated, approved requirement to get around this.

This doesn't do anything about cruise missiles but you can bet there are GPS jammers in place at certain locations.(Well I hope there are)

Posted by Mike Borgelt at May 19, 2004 03:12 PM

  1. Guess I'm in a government database, then, because I blogged the model-airplane idea at considerable length and under my real name over on Chicago Boyz back on Sat 6 Dec; have a look.
  2. I concur w/VR that satellite defense is an underdeveloped field of endeavor, and with Jeff Arnall that CATS can provide mitigation. I expect the most expensive, critical assets to be moved up to GEO as one step (a related post is here.)
  3. Interesting technical note from Mike Borgelt. Obtaining the target satellite's orbital elements may be more important than a GPS, since the accuracy of the rocket need be only on the order of kilometers -- pointing accuracy of 1° and timing of the detonation to within ~1 sec would be plenty. And if you miss, you can always try again a few hours later.
  4. Not to overlook the obvious, many thanks to Rand for the link.
Posted by Jay Manifold at May 19, 2004 04:42 PM

The 60,000 ft limitation on reporting of data from commercially available GPS units has not been true for quite some time. I know because our team uses commercially available GPS units to track our stratospheric balloons.

Posted by Alfred Differ at May 19, 2004 10:51 PM

On GPS nav and RC aircraft I'd have to point out:

To quote just this one write-up, (there was one in Pop Sci a few months ago too :o)
"The scale Predator can even be equipped with a GPS flight control unit for long distance, pre-programmed reconnaissance missions (20 miles effective range)."


Posted by Randy Campbell at May 20, 2004 06:18 AM


Your balloons fly at less than 1000knots. You can get some commercial receivers that exceed the 60,000 feet limit but still have the speed limit. As I said the limits may or may not apply simultaneously.

Posted by Mike Borgelt at May 20, 2004 04:43 PM

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