25. BALLOON SATELLITES

There are number of scientific reasons for wishing to have an easily visible satellite. 1 In particular, precision orbit determination will probably be done optically, and it is clearly desirable to have a satellite which reflects or emits a considerable amount of light. An available method is the creation of a large reflecting object such as a metal balloon. 2

Precision orbit determinations based on optical tracking can be used for-

Metal balloon satellites also have potentially important military applications. Such an object, of very light weight, can be made in a size suitable to simulate any desired ICBM nose cone. It could, therefore, provide a permanent, realistic target for development and training activities in support of anti-ICBM systems. 3 Lightweight metal balloons simulating ICBM nose cones can also serve as decoys to frustrate ICBM defense systems. 4 5 Correspondingly, one would expect balloons, as decoys for military satellites, to be effective in degrading an antisatellite system; or balloon satellites permanently on orbit could be made numerous enough to "saturate," on a long-term basis, ICBM warning radars. 6


1 Astronautics and Space Exploration hearings before the Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration, 85th Cong., 2d sess., on H. R. 11881, April 15 through May 12, 1958: Technical panel on the Earth satellite program, National Academy of Sciences, Basic Objectives of a Continuing Program of Scientific Research in Outer Space, p. 782.

2 NASA Earth Satellite, fact sheet 1, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

3 Astronautics and Space Exploration, hearings before the Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration, 85th Cong., 2d sess., on H. R. 11881, April 15 through May 12 1958: Maj. Gen. J. P. Daley p. 688.

4 Nike-Zeus May be Inadequate, Top Defense Scientist Warns, Aviation Week, vol. 69, No. 19, November 10,1958, P. 33.

5 Address by Dr. Richard D. Holbrook, Advanced Research Projects Agency, Institute for Defense Analysis. to the Atlanta professional chapter, Sigma Delta Chi, Atlanta, Ga., September 9, 1958.

6 Inquiry Into Satellite and Missile Programs, hearings before the Preparedness Investigation Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, 85th Cong., 1st and 2d sess., pt. I, W. von Braun, p. 602.

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206 ASTRONAUTICS AND ITS APPLICATIONS

Balloon satellites that can simulate weapons of military offense suggest some potentially serious implications for warning systems and retaliation policy. For example, such an object could take up a trajectory similar to that of an incoming ICBM as a result, say, of a faulty satellite launch attempt. Further, such a faulty launch attempt could, in some circumstances, lead to a situation having the appearance of a mass attack, since a large satellite payload capacity could be used to carry a great many metal balloons. To illustrate, the approximately 3,000-pound capacity of the Sputnik III launching system could be used to carry in 1 package as many as 300 of the 12-foot balloons constructed for Explorer IV, since each of these balloons weighs less than 10 pounds.


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