Aiming for small, “tough” constellations

Thank you for the article “Controlling space” in the April 2019 Aerospace America.

In the September 2007 issue of the Armed Forces Journal, I wrote an article that covered some of same issues that you raised. In my article, “America’s brittle space systems,” my point of departure was Stephen Budiansky’s 2004 book, “Air Power,” in which he asserted that “this new kind of air power (using the third dimension of space and the fourth dimension of information warfare) could indeed operate against an enemy force with impunity.”

I pointed out that the system described by Budiansky, although exceedingly powerful and destructive, was inherently brittle by virtue of the brittleness of the space systems upon which it depended. The brittleness of our space elements was a consequence of decisions made long ago. For reasons of utility and economy, the space elements were developed according to what I called a “big iron” architectural philosophy, producing big, expensive satellites that were launched from big, soft platforms and were controlled by big, complex, soft centers.

I suggested that future developments should aim for proliferated and dispersed constellations of small space elements, launched from dispersed sites, and controlled from dispersed ground elements. These could be combined into “tough,” as opposed to “brittle,” systems that could deploy with, and be operated by, an expeditionary force in a theater of operations.

William L. Shields
AIAA associate fellow
Retired Air Force brigadier general
Tucson, Arizona

Aiming for small, “tough” constellations