Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas has sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis advocating for the development of space-based missile defense systems. He cites the nuclear threat from North Korea, the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in Iran, and the increasing superpower competition with China and Russia, which includes the development of hypersonic missiles that would evade sea and land-based missile defenses. Space-based missile defense systems would provide a boost phase opportunity to shoot down enemy missiles.

SDI redux

Cruz’s proposal constitutes a revival of the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative program.

When President Reagan proposed a system of space-based missile defenses to render nuclear weapons obsolete, he upended the nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. While American Democrats were opposed to SDI, the Soviet leadership was terrorized by the idea that it might succeed, rendering their vast and expensive nuclear arsenal impotent. Even though SDI never went past the research and development stage, it is credited as a critical factor in America’s victory in the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union.

What space-based missile defenses might mean

Space-based battle stations would likely include both laser weapons and interceptors. They would also prove to be a prime target of Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons. The battle stations would, most likely, need to be hardened against such armaments to enhance the chances of survival in the event of a conflict.

Thus, the mass of such platforms is likely to be enormous, requiring heavy lift capacity rockets to deploy them.

A recent article in The Space Review suggests that the deployment of such hardened military platforms would be the perfect mission for a revised version of the Space Launch System. The development of commercial, heavy lift rockets, such as the Falcon Heavy, and the upcoming New Glenn and Big Falcon Rocket has cast doubt on the utility of the SLS for NASA’s deep space exploration needs.

The article proposes making the shuttle era rocket engines, in the first stage of the SLS, reusable with the addition of landing legs and Blue Origin BE-3 engines. Then the current SRBs would be scrapped in favor of Falcon 9-derived strap-on rockets such as the ones that the Falcon Heavy uses. The article suggests that as many as ten of these strap-on rockets could be used, giving the SRB enormous lift.

The revised SLS could be used to deploy hardened missile defense battle stations that would trump enemy missiles and thus render the American homeland safe from nuclear attack. The development of these platforms would have the added benefit of forcing China and Russia to respond, draining their economies, just as what happened to the Soviet Union in the 1980s.