The idea behind “operationally responsive space” isn’t sound, according to Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command. Speaking Friday at AFA’s Global Warfare Symposium in Los Angeles, Shelton said it makes little sense to have rockets “sitting around waiting for the day” that they’re needed to put spare satellites in orbit to replace those that have been attacked or disabled. Attempting to launch under the “crisis conditions” of a war puts undue stress on the system, and it makes more sense to simply have the satellites already on orbit, Shelton said. He advocates larger constellations of more survivable platforms both to survive anti-satellite attacks and deter them in the first place. Likewise, Shelton said he doesn’t believe a kinetic anti-satellite approach is a good one for the US in the event of space war. A kinetic response to an attack on a US satellite is “not anything we favor,” he said, given that such an approach creates “thousands of items” of space debris which only make US satellite operations more difficult. This reality has been borne out by the 2007 Chinese ASAT test and a more recent Kosmos/Iridium collision. “That’s not a good strategy,” he said, adding the US will “look at other ways to do counterspace.”
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.