Last week I introduced this topic here, promising to return this week with a glimpse of what a Planetary Defense System designed for indefinite sustainment would look like.
Good sustainment predicts the future. And predicting the future is, of course, impossible. The way we do it in sustainment is to restrict the act of prediction. We simplify it to the point where we can justify our predictions.
We search diligently for emerging failure modes, characterize the physical properties of the degradation as thoroughly as possible, and then assume these physical properties continue down some logical path. There is still room for error, but we feel we have it under control. Example errors: bad physical model, environmental conditions change in the future, unforeseen interactions of chemical processes, data we used turns out to be defective in some way, unexpected additional emerging failure modes that interact with the first one, etc.
But assuming all that works out pretty much OK, in the analysis phase, we benefit if we have many, many copies of a similar system. Thus, we can aggregate data on 400 ICBMs to predict that, as a group, those 400 rockets will have a predictable reliability, within definable confidence bounds. Additional tests or operational data can help refine the math.
Therefore, a Planetary Defense System should include systems that can be economically monitored and characterized over time and should consist of many copies.
In my mind, this means a field of rockets not unlike the Ground-Based Mid-Course Defense System deployed in Greeley Alaska. I use this example because it has another characteristic a good Planetary Defense Systems should have. Its rockets, radars, command and control, people, and processes are being continually upgraded to make it better.
Imagine a test program similar to the ICBM test program where 3 to 4 rockets are launched each year. These launches can be exploited to try out new concepts and systems in planetary defense. Perhaps two rockets intercept an asteroid to attach rockets. Then the rockets are controlled from Earth. The other two might deploy a kill vehicle whose effectiveness to maneuver and initiate is tested. The following year, another concept might be tested or currently deployed schemes get further testing.
In summary, a Planetary Defense System that can be sustained indefinitely would include:
- Majority of the hardware is predictable, state-of-the-practice
- Many copies
- Continuous upgrades