Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Space Authority and the Orbital Patrol

Triborough (Robert F Kennedy) Bridge, Port Authority of NY & NJ
Longtime commenter Ferrell made an observation about growing space traffic in the discussion on Adventures in Orbital Space that fits neatly into the setting portrayed in The Weekly Moonship:

At some point, traffic control and enforcement would be needed to keep ... impending chaos under control. As more people start working in orbit, the more positive control will be needed, traffic growing exponentially.

In a word, yes. A rudimentary framework for space traffic control already exists; I believe that orbital slots, at least in geosynch, are assigned by the International Telecommunications Union. But as space traffic grows, so will the need for traffic management and enforcement, as well as emergency response services. On land these tasks are commonly divided between police and fire agencies; at sea they are combined in the Coast Guard (at least in US practice).

The mission will eventually call for suitably configured and equipped spacecraft. And like the Coast Guard and its cutters, the agency and ships will in some broad sense be quasi-military in character.

Okay, let's be honest. This blog does not encourage war in space (or anywhere else), but that certainly hasn't kept me from writing about space warfare, or kept you from reading about it. But here I specifically want to look at what may be called 'organic' military or at least quasi-military activity in space - missions that relate to other human space activity, not just earthly power politics.

The distinction is important in more than one way. Navies have historically been 'organic' to sea trade (even if the first mission of the Royal Navy was and is to prevent another 1066). For that matter, armies have generally been 'organic' to the lands they defended, oppressed, or both.

Even more to the point, several great powers already have large military space armadas, and have for half a century. We call them ICBM forces, and neither as spacecraft nor as weapons are they really all that interesting. This isn't just Armageddon aversion - their 1950s predecessors, the B-52 and TU-95 Bear intercontinental nuclear bombers (both still in front line service, though mainly in other roles) had just as horrific a mission. But they were and are seriously cool airplanes, indeed acknowledged classics. You can enjoy and agree with the message of another Kubrick movie of the 1960s; those B-52 sequences still totally rock. Yee-haaaa! Yee-haaaa! Yeee-haaaaaaa .....

I think we can draw a broader message from this. The spacegoing equivalent of a coast guard cutter may not match the Romance quotient of a 44-gun frigate close-reaching to windward, a bone in her teeth and her guns run out. But it is probably more interesting technologically and operationally than a robotic battle station designed to vaporize other robotic battle stations or the occasional city.

And, most of all to the point, the coast guard cutter is in almost every case a far better delivery vehicle for a payload of adventure.

So how does it emerge? I will start with the agency that deploys it, the Space Authority. This rather bland name is inspired by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an agency that in its mid-20th century heyday, under Robert Moses, was notoriously powerful and independent, and reshaped New York City (albeit in ways that are now widely deplored).

The Space Authority was founded in 2022 - or it might have been 2012; I haven't double-checked, and in its early decades the Authority was all but invisible. Its overall mission was and is to co-ordinate space activity, assigning orbital slots, enforcing safety regulations, and such. The Authority was set up by the major space launch players, but its guiding force was - and this is not a contradiction in terms - a shrewd, tough, and above all visionary bureaucrat.

To avoid endless wrangling over a tiny budget, this individual proposed a dedicated funding stream, a $10,000 fee for every ton placed on orbit. To the power players this was convenient and cheap, the fee coming to about 0.1 percent of contemporary launch cost. Even to penny-conscious Elon Musk it was chump change (and Musk might well have seen through the game and still figured it was worth playing, and paying).

And since space traffic had been fairly steady for decades, a few hundred tons annually, hardly anyone expected conditions to change. The Space Authority had just enough money, a few million per year, to rent some office space in Geneva or wherever, and hire a couple of sharp young attorneys as staff. Space law enforcement, in this early era, did not mean spacecraft with flashing red lights. It meant a letter, hand delivered on real paper (lawyers likes that stuff), directing attention to Section 28, Subparagraph h(3), 'Penalty for Noncompliance'.

Time marched on, and space traffic volume grew. By the time the moonship Henry Mancini is docked to Airlock 10-A, 100,000 passengers and 70,000 plus tons of cargo payloads are going into space every year, plus the upper stages of the shuttles that put them there. The Space Authority budget is now on order of a billion dollars a year, current value. Still chump change by Pentagon standards, but this is a real budget, enough to charter or buy and equip a couple of ships for special missions - and develop a more capable, purpose-built model. The need may not yet have fully arisen at the level I described, with its 6-8 passenger ships operating beyond low Earth orbit. But it is clearly on the horizon.

The primary mission of these first Patrol ships will likely be the noblest: space rescue. Rescue in deep space is problematic at best; the distances are simply too vast. By the time you reach a stricken ship or outpost it probably won't have any survivors left to rescue. But rescue in orbital and local space is a different matter.

We have already had a case where space rescue could have made all the difference. Had the extent of damage to Columbia's heat shield been recognized, a rescue mission would have been feasible in principle. I sadly suspect that NASA closed its eyes and grit its teeth because no rescue was possible in practice. Even the Russians, with their simpler, robust architecture, could not have cued up a double Soyuz mission in time, and Columbia was on an orbit that Soyuz, from its high-latitude launch site, probably could not reach.

But once space rescue is practical it is necessary, and the Authority needs a ship or two that is up to the job. This means sacrificing operating economy in favor of flexibility and performance, specifically the ability to deploy on short notice and reach as many orbits as possible, meaning plenty of maneuver capability, AKA delta v. Onboard equipment and facilities, in addition to sick bay, likely include storage and support for taxi craft and robo pods used to work around crippled, possibly tumbling spacecraft, plus a miniature onboard Mission Control for directing operations.

The first such ships will be handbuilt prototypes, thus costly; the Authority might need to issue revenue bonds to fund the development program. Follow-ons will be less expensive, though still more than commercial models since the mission is more demanding. Say $200 million per ship for a 100-ton ship (unfueled), and $60 million per year to keep each in service, plus propellant for training missions. Perhaps $150 million annually per ship, all up, so the Authority can keep three or four in service.

And it possibly has not escaped your attention that the major characteristics of these ships - their flexibility and performance - are very much what you would expect of warcraft. (May the Episcopalian God of my childhood forgive me, agnostic that I am, for perverting angels of mercy into angels of wrath.) Throw in fittings like those (potential) weapon bays and CIC or tactical control center and you have the raw material of a handy basic space warship.

Even militarized, these Patrol ships would be no match in sheer firepower for the sorts of weapon platforms the great powers might deploy. But they are far better suited to exerting a presence in orbital space. Über battle stations leave policymakers with a pretty stark options menu - nothing between issuing a sternly worded letter of protest or blowing someone up. A Patrol ship can switch out the medics for a SWAT team, go out to any orbit, arrest someone, and haul them in to face charges.

And that is how you effectively and flexibly exercise power, or dare I say Authority, across local space.

What are the chances of some such agency and some such ships emerging? Given the scale of space activity I have portrayed - hardly a given - I'd actually rate the chances moderately high, say five percent to 20 percent. Someone will need to do it. The great powers won't trust each other, and won't want to spend their own money on forces suited to keeping order in orbit rather than overawing their terrestrial rivals. Business interests will want some law and order up there without getting too entangled in international power politics. Yet the outcome suggested also would mark, quietly, a beginning for space-centric political structures.

On Independent Orbit?

Potentially, at least for purposes of opera, it might be a good deal more than that. As noted here before on this historically significant anniversary, the Revolt of the Colonies has been a long-standing theme in space-oriented SF; particularly, for obvious reasons, 'Murrican space SF.

In the rocketpunk era the Space Patrol was commonly understood to be an arm of the American Empire Terran Federation. As such it would be cast in the role of the Redcoats in any Independence Day scenario. (Though, notably, Heinlein in Between Planets did not call the Federation forces, or any component of them, the Patrol; that name was reserved for stories where the Patrol and the Federation itself were good guys.)

But the Patrol as outlined above arises in different circumstances, where there is no Federation, certainly nothing like a world state, only the great-power muddle we have known since 1648 - or perhaps even a more thorough muddle, known to students of international affairs by the wonderfully Game of Thrones-esque name of neomedievalism.

In such circumstances, as suggested above, the Patrol is not an instrument of any terrestrial power, but one that arises from the circumstances of space itself, politically embodied in this account by the Space Authority. No one on Earth quite owns it, or can even agree on who should own it.

There would likely be no Declaration of Independence, no need for a gifted rhetorician to remake poor old George III into Caligula. Possibly the last thing the Authority wants is to call that kind of attention to itself and its expanding role, and gaining a seat in the UN General Assembly, or successor body, is the least of its priorities.

Unless, of course, the overriding demands of story call for a Concord, a Saratoga, a Yorktown. In that case, have at it.

Port Authority Police Patch


The image of the Robert F Kennedy or Triborough Bridge, built by the Port Authority in the Robert Moses era, comes from a blog about NYC area highways. Apart from my institutional reference, what does it have to do with space? Who cares? Bridges are always cool.

The image of a Port Authority police patch comes from a police officers' organization website,


Nyrath said...

The plan to fun NASA with a boost tax is brilliant! As is the evolutionary path leading from a bureaucratic regulatory agency to armed space warships.

I'm vaguely reminded of the RIO from the novel Manna by Lee Correy (aka G. Harry Stine).

In the novel it was recognized that orbital bombardment high-energy lasers (HEL) could be put into difficult-to-detect satellites, provided that they were powered remotely. By, for instance, a solar power satellite.

Insurance companies refused to provide coverage for the construction of a powersat, not if it could instantly make itself into a huge fragile military target just by directing a power beam to a HEL beamer satellite.

So the international Resident Inspection Organization (RIO) was created. They ensured that the power beams stayed pointed at the ground based rectennas (not at HEL beamers), and in exchange the insurance companies underwrote the powersat construction projects.

RIO had no weapons. If they detected an infraction, their mission was to broadcast the fact to the world, then get out of the way.

However, in the course of the novel due to some nasty international politics RIO was forced to arm itself and take a more active role in policing cis-Lunar space. RIO morphed into the Space Patrol.

Eric Tolle said...

Welcome back!

I like this idea of a gradual accretion of powers for the Space Patrol- especially if additional duties like asteroid watch and clearing space junk can be added (because nobody else wants to deal with that job).

One element that this scenario may affect is the idea of ranks. Most scenarios give naval ranks to a space force, which to me has always seemed about as useful as calling a air force pilot a centurion. But if a space patrol starts off as a civilian agency, one initially with no spacecraft, the ranks may be organically or deliberately not traditional military. Say, "Mission commander" instead of "Captain", "Section Lead" instead of "Lieutenant", and so on. With part of the goal being to emphasize that this is NOT a traditional military.

fro1797 said...

There already is a rank structure, of sorts, for spacecraft: Commander, Pilot, Engineer, Co-Pilot, Mission Specialist, and Payload Specialist. A little vague in places, a few are interchangable, but it is workable, at least as a starting point. They do have the advantage of being recognizable. The evolution of a small, limited-scope agency into a huge, quazi-military organization is a story (or series), in and of itself. Great post, so interesting!


Brett said...

Awesome stuff. The nice thing about a Space Authority is that as its budget got bigger, the more effective it would be at lobbying for additional support for its mission - and for space exploration in general into Earth Space. The only downside is that it might become another Veto Point for missions elsewhere, trying to assert its authority over all space-related activity.

Tony said...


How does the Space Authority, as an organization presumably desiring to stay on the right side of international law, get its end-user certificates recognized as valid by governments in whose territory arms manufacturer's operate? How is the authority going to get its weapons and ammunition on orbital launches without confiscation at the launch site? The Authority is going to have to operate under the legal authority of an internationally recognized body -- probably a coalition of space going nations. Which would of course severely limit the scope of independent policy and action. The Authority is just not going to get the kind of free hand that Moses got, even with its own revenue stream(s).

This is not going to be a show stopper, but it does mean that everything the Authority does is going to be gauged against the consequences for the Authority's future. And that's actually a good thing, in terms of Romance. Lots of story fodder there, especially for suspense and political-legal drama.

WRT ranks, I think it would be obvious that if military ranks were followed, naval ranks indeed make the most sense. We're looking at an organization that is going to have to adopt a naval type of discipline much more than a military one, given the nature of long-term shipboard operations. Just because it's in space, rather than at sea, doesn't change any of that.

But what I think is more likely is the adoption of a law enforcement rank structure. Example:

Commander: Chief executive of an operational department, initially probably something like Operations, Intelligence, and Logistics.

Captain: Chief executive of a major command, like an individual ship or ground base or office.

Lieutenant: Executive officer of a ship or commander of a division within a base or office.

Sergeant: Senior operational or technical personnel; leader of a tactical team (i.e. a rescue squad or boarding team).

Constable: Technical or law enforcement specialist.

Of course, even Constable level personnel would be highly qualified and competitively selected. Also, in a nod to Heinlein -- but also to reality -- active operational careers would have to be relatively short. One might imagine being on active space duty for ten to twelve years, starting as either a Constable or Lieutenant. (Law enforcement and technical personnel starting out as Constables, while pilots would start out as Lieutenants.) Personnel that wish to would finish out a complete career in the ground establishment, potentially rising as high as Commander. (Though we would imagine that the Commander of Operations would have to maintain currency as a spacecraft pilot, and go into space regularly, in order to maintain credibility with ship officers and Crews.)

In any case, those who wish to retire after their active duty would be given a pension that would secure a comfortable upper middle class life for the rest of their natural days. Which means in turn that post-active ground establishment compensation would have to be on the same level, so that the choice to stay or go would be totally a matter of conscience, and not an economic decision. Yes, this will have to be an unapologetically elitist institution.

Thucydides said...

Going the other way, rather than on singular "Space Authority", you may see an evolution more akin to the development of naval law in our own history.

Since "national" airspace ends at the upper limit of the atmosphere (generally considered 100km above Earth), objects in space are the property and responsibility of the launching nations. Think of them as offshore islands. Since you don't want unauthorized objects approaching close enough to do damage (accidental through collision or purposeful damage), then each object will have a "clearance zone" where other objects must stay out of (or approach at an agreed upon closing velocity). This would be something like the "3 mile limit" of control over the ocean, in the old days the range of a cannon shot from a shore battery.

Now most platforms are robotic on nature, and would be able to communicate with ground control if something was approaching, but there will be areas where coverage is not 100%, and situations where the approaching object is ambiguous in nature (is it a dead satellite or expended piece of rocket?), so there will be some need to have a operations centre in LEO, for the national "Space Guard" to keep an eye on things. While it would be much easier for the Space Guard to deploy its own robot spacecraft to do inspections and attend to national hardware in orbit, the idea of robots skulking around in space is not well received in most circles (they would claim these are robotic warcraft designed to cripple enemy satellites), and the need to have a man in the loop for quick decision making (no light lag) suggests that a manned "cutter" would be much better received. Certainly a Cutter would be large enough that their movements would be obvious to observers in space and on the ground (including legions of people on the ground with telescopes).

So we would actually have several "Space Guards" in orbit in this scenario, representing each spacefaring nation or grouping. The US and Russia are obvious choices, the Chinese are next in line, followed by the Indians, ESA and possibly Japan (not necessarily in that order).

Thucydides said...

Part 2

A first generation American Space Guard cutter might resemble a Dragon or Orion capsule attached to a much larger service module, and carrying a large pod on the "nose" to carry tools, act as an airlock and maybe carry a robotic arm; much like the Apollo/Soyuz configuration of 1975. Russian and Chinese ships would be extended versions of the Soyuz built to their national configurations, while the ESA technically has the ability to make a spaceship (perhaps based on their Juiles Verne cargo shuttle to the ISS), India and Japan may make their own ships, collaborate with each other or other space nations to adapt an existing design.

The next generation ship might be a pure spaceship, something conceptually like a LEM except with no landing legs and a much bigger "Descent Stage" part with the orbital manoeuvre engine, reaction mass and so on. Once again each nation will be building their own ships, but informally the various space patrols will be cooperating in orbit (the environment is far more dangerous to them than anything else) and suggestions passed back and forth will tend to make the ships much more similar and interoperable with each other, so Space Guard crews can assist each other when needed.

The other thing which will drive an SFNal scenario will be insurance, and insurance companies will probably have some sort of representation with the various Space Guards to scrutinize investigations and ensure that "their" space hardware is being properly looked after. Once again, a degree of collaboration between the various insurance groups will take place, leading to more interoperability in legal and technical terms to allow adjustors and investigators to have a clear understanding of the environment and the risks they are underwriting (or paying off).

This is messier and more complex than Rick's scenario, but for a "balkanized" Earth, this might be an easier approach to the initial setting up a Space Guard and Orbital Authority.

Rick said...

due to some nasty international politics RIO was forced to arm itself and take a more active role in policing cis-Lunar space. RIO morphed into the Space Patrol.

Yep, similar basic premise. Re-reading RM, I've found that diffuse or uncertain authority structures have been a longstanding theme here. A couple more relevant links:

The Density of Power
Adventures in Interstitial Space

Eric - thanks for the welcome back! As noted in the first of these new posts, all of you in the commenter community are the main reason I cleared the cobwebs from pad and gantry, and re-launched RM.

On ranks, Tony got in ahead of me in suggesting elements of law enforcement usage. I'm accustomed to 'officer' as the basic street cop, rather than Constable, but that's just a parochial thing. I could also imagine ranks or positions like Chief Inspector, at least on the law enforcement side of operations.

As for the old Navy v Air Force debate, I'm actually thinking that the Orbital Patrol falls neatly in the middle - many missions are only a day or two, but some can extend to a couple of weeks. And while its bases are not 'ships', they are fundamentally spacecraft - even a lunar surface facility. But in any case my bias is to not directly follow military rankings, but freehand it as suggested. As Ferrell noted, at least in US practice some distinctive space ranking structures have already emerged. (I have no idea how the Russians handle those things.)

The only downside is that it might become another Veto Point for missions elsewhere

One natural source of tension would be a 'spacecoach' - whatever its technical details - that in the Patrol's eyes is unsafe. It does not want to mount costly, risky, and perhaps futile rescue missions because of substandard spacecraft. Its bias will be to set standards high, and where others might see adventurous free spirits, it just sees shadow side operators out to cut corners.

Patrol officers may share The Dream in their DNA, but in their view space has no place for cowboys. If you want to ride the wild range, try Mongolia, the High Plains, or the pampas.

Continued ...

Rick said...

Continuation ...

The Authority is going to have to operate under the legal authority of an internationally recognized body ... This is not going to be a show stopper ... actually a good thing, in terms of Romance.

Exactly so. Even if the literary end goal is the American Revolution in SPAAACE - or at any rate some kind of autonomy in space, asserted and defended by arms - the milieu and context are entirely different. The Patrol is not full of wannabee rebels, but space professionals with a quasi police/military ethos, sworn to protect & serve. Their general attitude toward officials from Earth governments is probably that they are colleagues in principle, but so clueless about space that they couldn't find an oxygen supply if you smacked them in the face with a green canister.

everything the Authority does is going to be gauged against the consequences for the Authority's future

Even before they are Patrol officers they are spacecrew: Anyone who makes a burn without double checking their orbit deserves what they get. But we gotta rescue their sorry ass anyway, so all hands strap in, report your boards, and stand by to commence countdown.

(Though we would imagine that the Commander of Operations would have to maintain currency as a spacecraft pilot, and go into space regularly, in order to maintain credibility with ship officers and Crews.)

Roger that. You don't order a mission you could not undertake yourself, if you had to. (And in heart of hearts hate being chained to a damn desk. But that mission has to be performed, too.)

Going the other way, rather than on singular "Space Authority", you may see an evolution more akin to the development of naval law in our own history.

Absolutely. My focus on a single Space Authority is unabashedly chosen as more conducive to a quasi-autonomous space-centric institution. From some perspectives, though, an autonomous space Authority might be more bug than feature.

But whatever the institutional framework, the technological evolution might very well be along the lines that Thucydides sketches.

Bruce Lewis said...

International Space Navigation Authority / Autorité internationale de la navigation spatiale (ISNA/AINS)


Il doit être une violation du Traité de Kourou pour un parti fonctionnant en espace libre pour causer délibérément et intentionnellement un navire ou un objet en dehors de l'atmosphère de la Terre / Terra de se déplacer sur une orbite ou trajectoire qui va l'entraîner dans le navire ou objet impactant Terre / Terra ou de son atmosphère, sans l'autorisation préalable de l'autorisation et par l'Autorité de la trajectoire proposée.

La violation de cette ordonnance générale par toute partie, signataire du traité ou non, doit être un motif de suspension ou de résiliation de l'espace général certificat de navigation de ce parti.

La violation de cette ordonnance générale peut également être considéré comme un acte de guerre par tout Etat signataire Partie au Traité.

La patrouille de l'espace doit respecter cette ordonnance générale par tous les moyens nécessaires, y compris l'utilisation de la force meurtrière. Navires ou objets trouvés pour être dans une orbite ou trajectoire qui va l'entraîner dans le navire ou objet impactant la Terre / Terra ou de son atmosphère, sans l'autorisation préalable de l'autorisation et par l'Autorité de la trajectoire proposée, sera soumis à la saisie et / ou la destruction par la Patrouille si une telle action est nécessaire pour protéger la Terre / Terra et / ou son atmosphère du mal par un navire ou un objet impactant la Terre / Terra ou de son atmosphère.

Violation délibérée de la présente ordonnance générale peut être un motif d'expulsion de toute personne, signataire ou non, du traité de Kourou.



It shall be a violation of the Treaty of Tranquilty for any party operating in free space to deliberately and intentionally cause any vessel or object outside of the atmosphere of Earth/Terra to move in an orbit or trajectory that will result in the vessel or object impacting Earth/Terra or its atmosphere, without the prior permission of and authorization by the Authority of the proposed trajectory.

Violation of this General Order by any party, signatory of the Treaty or not, shall be grounds for suspension or termination of that party's General Space Navigation Certificate.

Violation of this General Order may also be considered an Act of War by any State Party signatory to the Treaty.

The Space Patrol shall enforce this General Order by any necessary means, including the use of deadly force. Vessels or objects found to be in an orbit or trajectory that will result in the vessel or object impacting Earth/Terra or its atmosphere, without the prior permission of and authorization by the Authority of the proposed trajectory, shall be subject to seizure and/or destruction by the Patrol if such action is necessary to protect Earth/Terra and/or its atmosphere from harm by a vessel or object impacting Earth/Terra or its atmosphere.

Deliberate violation of this General Order may be grounds for expulsion of any party, signatory or not, from the Treaty of Kourou.

Rick said...

I like it! It also hints at something that crossed my mind after mentioning that the Authority, or Autorité, might be headquartered in Geneva - that its official, formal language might well be French, even if the service language of space operations is still English, as in aviation today. (Or French might be purely for the most formal diplomatic occasions - but what the hey, let's run with it.)

Among other things, this would neatly justify espatier as the term for 'space marine', albeit initially in the context of SWAT team rather than Marine battalion.

And welcome to the discussion threads!

Bruce Lewis said...

Thanks! Since French is the language of diplomacy, I would think that the Treaty of Korou's Protocols Concerning Navigation in Space (The 'Tranquility' Treaty) would be written in French.

General Order Number One exists in order to provide a basis in international law for the use of force by the Patrol. It is intended to prevent acts of terrorism by those who might try to divert an asteroid or use a ship capable of continuous acceleration as a means of threatening Earth. (Tha destructive potential of diverted asteroids or other massive space objects is obvious; if the Emdrive works as advertised, even a small vessel could be used to create a large impact event on Earth.) By requiring that the Pstrol approve the trajectories of all vessels navigating in space or objects being moved in space PRIOR to navigation, the Patrol has all the legal authority it needs to board. divert, and/or destroy any such vessels or objects found to be navigating without permission.. Instead of having to consult with the Treaty bureaucracy back on Esrth, the captain of a Patrol vessel can act independently against vessels/objects on prohibited trajectories, saving valuable time.

Lots of story potential in this scenario.I'm glad you liked it.

Tony said...

Re: multiple national space guards vs an international space authority

I think that one is as likely as the other, in the abstract. There a pros and cons to each. But as human occupation of space increases, the national space forces become more likely, because there would be greater economic and national security motivations. One could even reasonably imagine an initial attempt at an international space authority, which gets elbowed out of the way by national space forces as time goes on.

Tony said...

Oh, BTW, ICBMs -- all ballistic missiles, in fact -- aren't space force weapons. They're artillery. This goes all the way back to the V-2, which had an apogee of 120 miles, making it a space force weapon by the same standard that an ICBM would be a space force weapon. Except that the V-2 program was an army program, precisely because ground launched, HE delivering rockets were both technologically and operationally artillery. In fact, the Luftwaffe didn't want to have anything to do with it, preferring to develop and use the V-1 flying bomb.

Bruce Lewis said...

My conception of the Patrol: a multinational task force comprised of various space military units (ships, espatiers, etc.) detached from the space military forces of each of the Treaty parties, all under a single command. In other words, a spacegoing version of a Standing NATO Maritime Group.

Rick said...

Sure, a civil space establishment on the scale I portray is big enough to be an important economic objective, even if it is not directly 'strategic' in a conflict between terrestrial powers. Whereupon the big kids on the bloc might easily muscle the Authority aside.

For it to survive and thrive would take a lucky break or two, though I don't think unreasonably lucky. The powers could agree, tacitly or explicitly, to leave space law enforcement and rescue to the Authority (which takes care to butter them up). Or the powers might be too concerned with their own regional spheres of interest to give primacy to global let alone extraterrestrial power projection; e.g., India worries more about Pakistan and Indonesia than the US, EU, or even China, which in turn worries about Japan and Vietnam.

A NATO-esque multinational force is certainly a Patrol option, though it (sort of) presupposes signatories strongly disposed to cooperation. Though the European great powers were sometimes cooperating militarily as late as 1912, in the Balkans no less, before everything blew up. It is just possible that such a force might gradually and fortuitously acquire its own cultural identity, but not especially likely.

ICBMs (and all ballistic missiles) are indeed basically self propelled artillery shells. It was an anomaly of interservice politics that American ICBMs were owned by SAC instead of an Army strategic missile command. Calling them space armadas is a rhetorical flourish, but I believe that bomber forces were sometimes called air armadas. And for that matter the original Armada, the one that gave English the word, was launched against a land larget. (Okay, more precisely it was a covering force for Parma's invasion flotilla. Philip II, the Prudent King, was not very prudent on that occasion!)

Hugh said...

I could see the "Skyguard" organisation (name from an Athur Clarke story IIRC) responsible for enforcing the Tranquility Treaty predating the Space Patrol. Asteroid impacts are already well established in public consciousness, and so is the idea that maybe we ought to do something about the possibility. And it's harder for any government to say "well it wouldn't be our problem" when you're discussing dinosaur killers rather than lost spaceships.

Skyguard does the hard politics of getting a world-wide space orientated organisation established, the Space Patrol starts under its umbrella?

Thucydides said...

Skyguard and the Space Guard sound like two complimentary but different forces.

The Space Guard polices orbital space (US space cutters are generally responsible to ensure US launched space junk does not crash into anyone's orbital property, and conduct inspections on US space systems to ensure they are meeting various national and industry standards (so as not to cause interference with other nation's space systems).

Skyguard is a deep space operation, with platoons of orbital telescopes and other detection systems, and a few capable deep space systems to launch against incoming asteroids to attempt deflection missions (the mechanics of that I will leave to the reader, although due to their position in Earth orbit I would probably rule out using nuclear powered "physics packages" to make the deflection).

There is probably some interaction between the various Space Guards and the Skyguard personnel, just as the various Space Guards probably participate in joint drills and exercises to ensure they are intreroperable in the event of an emergency. Space Guard cutters are pure orbital ships with powerful chemical rockets to make major orbital changes, while Skyguard ships are deep space "cruisers" with very efficient, low thrust, high ISP engines. Other differences in their jobs will probably lead to other cultural differences (perhaps the Space Guard will adopt "Nasa ranks" like Pilot and Mission Specialist, while the Skyguard will be more Naval in character, given the long potential mission times).

Geoffrey S H said...

Wouldn't it be easier to just launch from the equator with each mission? Orbital transfer vehicles haven't exactly proven to be a resounding success...

Calvin said...

In a scenario where beamed power is important in earth orbital space, the enterprising company (say from the US, for example) that builds the first powersats would have to resolve conflicts between countries that want beam power at the same time slot, and could end up in way over their heads in international politics. They would either have to give up control of the powersats to some sort of international oversight agency. Or, they could decide to give American spacecraft priority and become more of a government contractor, so that the availability of beamed power depends on a country’s relationship with the US.

The first scenario would result in the IOA having to build spaceguard cutters for rescue operations and enforcing the treaty rules among non-beam powered spacecraft. It could also mean that very few powersats are built after the powersat company looses control, making the IOA’s job harder as alternate propulsion methods become more popular, and threats like rogue states deflecting NEOs become relevant. It would have to shift from a neutral allocator of beam-time to a true spaceguard/skyguard organization.

The second scenario would result in a messier political environment. Russia and China would build their own powersats and eventually cutters, with a big enough space presence from those countries. Authority would be based more on negotiation and relationships than strict rules established by a treaty, and there would be a free-for-all beyond earth orbital space, with all parties trying to enforce their control over NEOs. Or maybe the major players would get tired of the expense of trying to enforce their control over NEOs and set up an international skyguard based on a treaty, and with authority over the skyguard forces of various countries.

Rick said...

Would Skyguard really evolve as a quasi-military emergency response force? The nature of the threat - catastrophic but extremely sporadic - doesn't really point that way. You need an ongoing search/watch for potential Earth impactors, but that is just some dedicated telescopes and computer support. If a high threat is identified, then you get - one would hope! - a global but essentially one-off effort to smack it aside or whatever. No reason for a force of ships on ongoing standby against something you need to deal with once per century or so.

rogue states deflecting NEOs

Sorry, but I gotta stomp on this one. So to speak. Asteroid deflection as a weapon is Cool, yes, but one of the most pointless military options imaginable. Engage in lots of highly visible space operations in order to launch a threat with a 30-year warning time? Anyone who can do that can produce some nukes and stash them in shipping containers.

I'm also skeptical of shunting NEOs around for economic reasons i.e. mining. Surely we'd just go and mine out the stuff we want (tech details to be filled in!), rather than move a billion tons of worthless - and potentially hazardous, if mis-deflected - spoil to get at the million tons we actually want.

And a small admin note. I will be offline for a couple of days, starting sometime today, not sure when. So everyone, please work and play well with the other children. Thanks!

fro1797 said...

Hmmm...both skyguard and space guard might not take off until after a substantial scare; like a near miss from a dino killer, or an actual impact from a lesser rock. A falling spacecraft would just be blown to confetti by a missile before it reaches a populated area, but a city-killer rock (or snowball) would need to be nuked, if you caught it in time. That should cause a worldwide uproar. And, once established, would be difficult to get rid of...actually, it might be difficult to keep it from steadily expanding.


Tony said...

For those of us that actually remember our Clarke, Spaceguard (not "Skyguard") was an intelligence gathering organization only. Actual operations were conducted by a totally separate entity, the Solar Survey. That organization's primary purpose can best be understood through the names chosen for its ships: Endeavour, Beagle, Calypso, and Challenger.

Nyrath said...

I was theorizing the other day that civilian ownership of beam power utilities would make military organizations nervous. After all, the only difference between a laser beam energizing a beam-powered spacecraft and a weapons laser is the focus. I figured that astromilitaries would be worried about having to go up against laser forts owned by corporations.

So much so that I wondered if the astromilitaries of various nations would want a military monopoly on such laser stations, a Beam Transit Authority in other words.

Of course such dual-use items would have to be developed by several nations simultaneously, or leaders would get touchy about the growing "laser-gap".

Eric Tolle said...

I think a plausible scenario might be one where we start with Space Guard, and Skyguard duties get added to it layer, possibly in response to a scare. Possibly something like James Nicoll's description of how to monetize asteroid deflection. We could think of it as nations being unwilling to fund something until it actually becomes a real problem, and then using whatever's handy.

As far as ranks go, to me it makes sense to go with something based on the larger current source survey rather than try to graft on something from Earth. As Ferrel said, NASA already had something like a badger rank structure; it could be a bit more formalized into something like:

Ground or station:

(Mission) Commander
Section Lead / Pilot
Chief Specialist

With the idea of the Space Guard being an elite agency, could come the idea that all members are the equivalent of officers. A given guardsperson's rank as listed above may change depending on the mission: a mission commander on one mission may be Section Lead on another. A parallel line of semi-official authority may be based on experience and qualifications.

All of which could be enough to drive some military types up the wall when dealing with Space Guard. Which could be good for interesting story conflict.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Eric Tolle

Interesting, much of the stuff you just described is very similer to the military ranks described on Nyrath's excellent Atomic Rockets site, as well as on the Blue Max Studio's site.

What would the military rank structure have to make it different, in your opinion.

Geoffrey S H said...

Oh! p.s.: It occurred to me that the command craft in a formation (or the commander on that craft) might be designated an 'ace', given that the primary controller of a satellite at ground control (at least at NASA) usually goes by that name.

fro1797 said...

I suspect that any space service rank structure would be radically different than any Earth-based military. For instance, a ship commander, mission commander, and payload commander might (in theory) all be the same rank, but actually each be in charge of a different aspect of the mission, with the other two differing to one during one point or another during the mission.


Geoffrey S H said...

Sorry, I meant differences between a SPACE military/ national patrol and in the rank structure of the (international and potentially less militarized) patrol.

I absolutely agree that differences between terrestrial and astral ranks would be astronomical (if you excuse the pun).

Thucydides said...

From very long Earth practice, the Pilot or Captain is the overall commander and master of the spacecraft/installation. Other people may have similar "ranks" but are still subordinate in authority. There can always be only one Pilot or Captain actually running the show.

WRT my musings on Space Guard's and Skyguard (I'll use the same names to avoid confusion), an orbital Space Guard running LEO "cutters" will resemble an Air Force or Coast Guard in the sense that their missions are generally of short duration, and they park their vehicle in the space dock on completion. The cutter might have enough on board supplies and fuel for extended periods, but much of that is contingency, in case the cutter itself is somehow incapacitated in an Apollo 13 type incident. There is generally no expectation for the crew to be out for extended missions, so a Pilot, a Mission Specialist and sometimes a Payload Specialist would be a standard crew.

The Skyguard might never deploy in the tour of any single crewmember, but since the lead time and transit time might be very long, there may be two vessels always in orbit, one fully furnished and ready to go, while the other one is stripped down and rebuilt with the latest components. Think of two small ISS stations with a propulsion module strapped to the back. These vessels are built to be operated in deep space for multi year missions, so the crew lives and works aboard, much like a ship during the age of sail (or modern day container cargo ship). In that case, naval ranks and customs would be adopted, as they have evolved for centuries to deal with just such circumstances.

fro1797 said...

I'm sorry, but I just don't see the rank structure in space organizations being much like any Earthly military service; they evolved to meet specific and unique circumstances and environments, including the basic modes of has a very different set of unique circumstances, propulsion, travel times and constraints, as well as being a completely different environment. Rockets are not ships (sail or powered), they are not tanks, or submarines, or even large cargo planes. They may have some similarities with various aspects of those, but by and large, they are their own creature and their crews will want to express that uniqueness. I do think that a variation on the Commander, Pilot, Co-Pilot, Engineer, Mission Specialist, Payload Specialist rank/function structure will evolve...because at the end of the day, your grade (E-4, O-2, etc) is a matter of seniority and authority, while ranks (Airman, Captain, etc) are more based on function and position. While your pay grade might be the same as a planet based military, your rank will not be. For example; an E-5 army NCO might be the same grade as an Engineer aboard a spacestation, but I'm pretty sure there is a world of difference between the two ranks. You won't have Payload Specialists on a submarine, or a Boatswain on a rocket.


Rick said...

Back online. Rank structures will, in the end, be driven by culture and especially institutional attitudes. You can justify either freehanding ranks or strictly following existing military practice; in either case it says something about the organization and the polity that owns it.

A few historical instances, for what they are worth. Navy rank titles, at least in Anglosphere practice, are quite unlike their Army counterparts, and go back to the institutional origins of navies. And also of premodern origin, it is a bit odd that early modern armies did not steal more from Rome, considering that writers on the art of war in that era invariably cribbed heavily from Vegetius.

In modern times, air forces (again in Anglosphere practice) pretty much followed army practice.

But none of these examples quite match the situation of the Orbital Patrol, or for that matter the general evolution of space usage, which almost necessarily has some military-like features, combined with a more or less conscious avoidance of pure military ripoffs. At least in American practice this was in part surely an effort to reinforce the claim that NASA was a civilian agency.

Tony said...

I think we need to remember that NASA crew member titles were the result of a bunch a prima donna test pilots not wanting to be referred to by any term that suggested subordination. That's why you had the second banana named the "Lunar Module Pilot", even though the Mission Commander actually did the piloting. Shuttle Mission Specialist titles were also about astronauts not being subordinated to other astronauts.

In an organization that's starting off under military discipline, where somebody has to be in charge and somebody else has to follow, for years at a time, military or naval ranks make perfect sense. Or law enforcement ranks, if the source of authority is an LE mission.

Having said that, there is some room for variation (but not much). German practice is to have various grades of Lieutenant, then Corvette Captain, Frigate Captain, and Captain at Sea (the last is a very rough translation; the literal translation of "kapitan zur see" -- "captain to sea" -- doesn't have a direct English equivalent. Russian naval ranks like wise have various grades of Lieutenant, then Captain 3rd Class, Captain 2nd Class, and Captain 1st Class. The French have a couple of grades of Ensign, Lieutenant, then Corvette Captain, Frigate Captain, Ship Captain. Note that in all of these cases, the junior officers have rank titles indicating their subordination, while the senior officers are some kind of captain. Note that even in the Anglosphere it's similar, with junior officers being Ensigns and Lieutenants, while senior officers are Commanders and Captains. Of course, all navies have Admirals.

The point here is that if you want to go with a naval ranking system, the current terminology is already utilitarian and generalizable enough. No need to reinvent the wheel, even for purposes of distinction.

If you want to use a military/air force system, okay, but once again the traditional rank structure is over three centuries old in its basic form, and serves well.Even when applied to air forces the traditional military rank structure is useful. The Soviets tried a positional rank structure (i.e. Section Leader, Platoon Leader, Company Commander, etc.) for a couple of decades, in order to be classless in character. It fell apart under the pressure of real war and they wen back to the traditional ranks. Only the Royal Air Force positional rank structure (i.e. Pilot Officer, Squadron Leader, Group Captain, etc.) has endured, and it's regarded as a historical curiosity more than anything else.

IOW, the Modern rank structures are effective and well-proven. No reason to switch up your game just because your force operates in SPAAACE.

Rick said...

If anyone is subscribed to RM via RSS or whatever (does anyone do RSS any more?), please to ignore the half finished post that may have shown up - I hit the publish button by mistake.

I'll be posting it for real pretty soon. :-)

Rick said...

And now I have:

Ships for the Orbital Patrol

Damien Sullivan said...

Yes, RSS is how I knew you were posting again. How else?

Rick said...

I keep track of blogs the Bronze Age way, by just dropping by every so often to look for signs of life. :-)