I have been asked to speak at an upcoming conference on Planetary Defense.
….defense against asteroids. But I like to think that most of the content of the conference could apply to any extraterrestrial alien threat. Not because it is necessarily true, but because it makes me feel like I am living in a black and white 1950’s scifi movie. But I digress…
The idea behind inviting me was to get a sustainment spin on this fairly complex system in early stages of design to support a very important mission. I find this intriguing because I usually confine my remarks to “sustainment after deployment”, the late stages of a system, that is, sustainment, not sustainability.
Sustainment is what the poor bastard realizes he has to do when someone else drops a system in his lap and tells him to keep it working. Sustainability is the first design criteria to be ignored when money is short; no one is sure what doing it entails since it hasn’t happened yet.
Bruce Willis Defending the Planet in “Armageddon” (1998)
On the other hand, maybe they are right to ask me. There are some things I’ve come up with. There are some things to think about based on my sustainment experience that can be applied to the very early design phase we are in now for Planetary Defense. How early? We are still debating whether nukes are a good idea. Something Bruce Willis and his titanium Space Shuttle never dealt with. He was handed the solution: arrive at asteroid, plant nukes, get out of the way fast.
So let’s start with: “What will be key characteristics of any Planetary Defense System?” In my opinion:
Effective: Eliminates or mitigates threat
Reliable: All required functions work
Available: Ready to be used when needed, even immediately after use
Survivable: Can’t be harmed prior to use by acts of nature, intentional human attacks, or whatever.
Economical: Can be kept viable with resources available
Anti-Fragile: Stress improves system making it more likely to attain its design life of “forever”
Safe & Sure: Doesn’t harm people, things, environment & works only when commanded
But most importantly, we need to insert before all of these:
Continually Demonstrated (by monitor, test, analysis) to be…
That is my key contribution, I think. To imagine a future where the Planetary Defense System must continuously justify its existence to decision-makers who hold the purse strings. Does the system provide the required insurance against attack? To what level of probability? To what level of confidence?
Knowing this will be a requirement in the sustainment phase, how do you design a system that predictable? We have a famous example that perhaps most people don’t know about. Nuclear bombs are designed and built to be predictably reliable and safe knowing that we no long perform full system testing on them.
Given this concept, what should a Planetary Defense System look like?
My answer next week.