Friday, February 20, 2009

Putin Whips it Out

Alright, up to now I have only used this blog to describe a narrow little slice of my reality. Just handy projects and stuff. I don't know if what follows is a harbinger of posts to come, but I like my little idea so much that I have to put it out there.

You may have seen this in the news this week:

I got to thinking about this, and I can't get away from my own little harebrained conspiracy theory to explain it. Actually, it's just conjecture to explain some data points, not a real conspiracy theory. So here goes with the background facts:

January 2007
China shoots down a satellite to demonstrate that they have the capability and that they are real players in the new world. (Another little conspiracy theory of mine about this one is that China did a messy job of it on purpose in order to deny that orbit altitude to others in the future. But I have no basis for that conjecture.)

February 2008
The US shoots down an ailing satellite, ostensibly to save the Pacific Ocean from a tank full of hydrazine. But the consensus view is that at least part of the motivation was for the US to let people -- especially China -- know that we have a big one, too, and that they should think twice before pointing their satellite interceptor at one of ours.

February 2009
A dead Russian satellite and a living Iridium satellite collide. The Iridium satellites are really only used by the US Military and a few oil platform workers and CNN reporters.

The grand explanation: Russia's satellite was not dead, and it was guided into the Iridium on purpose to show that Putin has a big one, too. The satellite-satellite intercept is a more elegant solution in some ways than what the US and the Chinese did because you can just park the killer satellite up there and wait until you need it. My suspicions about this have been aroused at least in part because no one has said anything about these intersecting flight paths being either predicted or, alternatively, a complete surprise. Surely if the dead Russian satellite was on a stable trajectory and the Iridium was, too, then the computers in Colorado Springs would have seen this one coming months ago and warned Iridium to burn some fuel to move their satellite. I bet somewhere in the bowels of the government there are analysts looking for evidence that the Russian satellite was communicating or that it made some propellant shots in the period leading up to the impact.

Two other nice data points: First, the Kremlin has been acting old-school nuts lately (traitor spies being knocked off in London, the invasion of Georgia, etc.) trying to demonstrate that it is still a key player in the world. Second, Biden and others warned rather ominously before the inauguration that Obama would be tested by a crisis. This probably is not The Big Crisis, but it seems at least plausible that North Korea's decision to roll out a rocket test, Iran's decision to do the same, and Russia's involvement in a satellite accident are examples of each country feeling out the new president. In Tom Clancy books at least, this sort of thing is kind of a rite of passage for new presidents. I suppose that Obama ignoring the Russia thing is the right calculated move, because a strong response would just draw us into a stupid slap fight with Putin. A spat with the US is good for his internal support in Russian politics, with the bonus of making glorious mother Russia proud of having the technological wherewithal to humilate the Americans. So a non response is probably the right thing.

Or it might have been a space accident. Maybe I should check myself into the loony bin.