A Sticky Solution




A prohibitive constraint on the use of conventional weapons in the anti-satellite (ASAT) role is their tendency to create debris through a variety of paths: direct ablation, spallation or fragmentation debris, warhead shrapnel, non-intercepting ordnance, and so forth.

The accumulation of such debris beyond a chaotically variable critical point – easily surpassed during military escalation, per Orbital Hazards in Simulated Great Power Escalation Scenarios (Oricalcios, Efiathe, and Cylassé, 2074) – poses a long-term hazard to civilization by inducing a cascade catastrophe, a rapid chain multiplication in debris count likely to render the orbital bands involved non-viable in the long term.

TAR BABY attempts to avert this by developing a specialized non-fragmentation ASAT weapon.

Specifically, we propose a dedicated ASAT warhead designed for compatibility with the Firehawk surface-to-orbit missile system (selected for its multiple-burn capability). Upon closing with the target satellite, this warhead deploys a sphere of viscous adhesive at its nose, formulated to remain effective in vacuum conditions for the duration of the impact event and to retain its shape via surface tension.

It is believed that this mechanism should allow a TAR BABY warhead to achieve a hard connect with the target satellite with minimal uncaptured fragmentation. Embedding within the adhesive body should in itself cause significant disruption to the operation of the target, but for maximal effect, after the adhesive sphere has set (either by passage of time or injection of a catalyst), the multiple-burn capability of the Firehawk can be used to perform a controlled deorbit and destruction of the captured satellite.

For further details of our proposal, please see the enclosed technical documentation.

Submitted for your consideration,

Vidal Amnestrianos

for and on behalf of

Firefly Aerospace, ICC

8 thoughts on “A Sticky Solution

  1. The tar baby warhead likes to live life in hard mode, I see. I guess whoever built it had plenty of Δv to spare, intercept-and-dock being a lot trickier to do on short notice than intercept-and-smash.

    • It kinda sounds like intercept-and-gooey-smash. Although I’m not sure if you’d need the controlled deorbital bit then. I guess it depends on your angles; you could probably end up in a stable but weird orbit.

        • That would solve most of the problem for a non-adhesive attack as well. Set the impact vector so that most of the debris has a bias towards the atmosphere.

          I think the elves must be building their satellites a lot tougher than we do for this to be viable without spamming a lot of debris from a near instantaneous break up at impact. Before the adhesive can grab everything the stuff on the far side is already flung off.

          It might make things worse as a class of small particles that would be relatively harmless on their own could be adhered together into a single, much larger, mass. OTOH, fewer, large masses might be easier to clean up later and still just as amenable to Whipple shield protection.

          • But that’s looking at it from a ‘could we do this’, driven (like the post was, I’m sure) by India’s recent (and China’s not-that-recent) ASAT tests.

            Undoubtedly they have the deltaV reserves to make it work in-universe.

          • It’s all in the correct viscosity and composition of the adhesive, something that had yet to be worked out at the proposal stage.

            Ideally, you’d want something that is viscous enough to hold together in a blob, but fluid enough to flow easily around the target without smashing it. In a perfect world, you’d develop such a compound that stayed fluid until it contacted an un-specially-treated surface, such that as it flows easily around the target satellite, the contacted areas would catalyse solidification, which would proceed outwards until you had a sort of satellite-geode lump, for want of a better phrase.

            But, y’know, got to get that research grant first.

          • That seems like it’d be pretty easy considering how advanced their material science is. Considering they want it to be reliable, function in space, etc, it’d probably still take some work, but I bet that’s not so much a “perfect world” compound as a “give us a couple experts and a few days to pound out the details” compound.

          • I suppose they’ll have to find a suitable mix of deltaV reserves along with the proper material. Orbital velocity at 300 miles up is over 17,000 miles per hour. Undoubtedly they can find a suitable material to do the job – it will be easier to do if you reduce that closing velocity though. Big acceleration just before impact.

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