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New US space weapon and an impending space prison

Mark Legg is a staff writer for Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a degree in philosophy and biblical studies. He eventually wants to pursue his PhD and become a professor in philosophy.

A satellite orbits the earth
@dimazel/stock.adobe.com

In late August, the Pentagon discussed declassifying a space weapon. As Commander-in-chief, President Biden will have to give the go-ahead to declassify the information. If he chooses to reveal the specifics of this space weapon, global knowledge of its existence could act as a deterrent to any hostile development of space weapons.

Though no one except for a handful of officials with the highest level of clearance knows what the secret space weapon is, speculation abounds. Some think it could refer to a satellite-to-satellite laser or a satellite-to-ground weapon, though these seem unlikely. 

The most popular guess is that US military satellites already possess the capability to block enemy satellites’ communications. In other words, the “space weapon” may refer to our capability to effectively disable other satellites without destroying them. A mysterious space plane called X-37B also exists, which apparently deployed small satellites in 2020. These satellites may pertain to the Pentagon’s upcoming declassification. 

Such a secret space weapon won’t be the sci-fi spaceship with green lasers that the child in us may desperately want, but it does open an interesting discussion about something we rarely think about: satellites. 

How we depend on satellites

Though the moon is also technically a satellite (it orbits the earth), as is the earth (it orbits the sun), we generally think of artificial satellites when we use the term satellite. Over four thousand operational, artificial satellites orbit the earth.

In our everyday lives, what depends on satellites

  • GPS (including services like Google Maps)
  • Weather forecasting 
  • Satellite TV 
  • Internet service in rural areas 

As someone who tends to get lost in their own living room, I’m grateful for GPS. Naturally, satellites progress scientific research, such as in astronomy, physics, and even geology. A satellite can help pinpoint valuable mineral deposits and even enable companies to identify oil deposits. 

Consider the profound impact of the International Space Station. The ISS unites nations around science in a unique way. It became a unifying, global project after the Cold War and space race. President Ronald Reagan instructed NASA to create the station in 1984, and its $150 billion construction has required collaboration between multiple nations. Currently, the International Space Station crew includes three Americans, two Russians, one Japanese, and one Frenchman. 

The wonders of space are marvelous and provide countless opportunities for advancement, but the nature of space travel itself threatens those opportunities. 

Will space debris create a prison?

The Department of Defense’s global Space Surveillance Network sensors help track dangerous objects floating in orbit and relay that information to private space programs and NASA. Even with these high-tech sensors, several satellites are destroyed every year. If they don’t fall into the atmosphere, such destroyed satellites become orbiting space debris.  

Because of this, many predict that earth’s orbit will become a prison of space junk that satellites won’t be able to avoid. For instance, when a traditional rocket enters space, it releases fuel tanks that then become orbiting space trash. 

One article examines the threat of space debris: “Debris in low Earth orbit travels 30 times faster than a commercial jet aircraft. At these speeds, pieces of debris larger than 1 cm (half an inch) can severely damage or destroy a satellite, and it is not possible to shield effectively against debris of this size.” NASA even reported that “flecks of paint” can cause serious damage to satellites

The more we travel to space, the more junk accumulates. Avoiding space junk becomes more difficult, and the more likely it is that this chain reaction will create the dreaded prison. If one satellite gets destroyed in orbit by space debris, it can become thousands of tiny pieces of space debris, which leads to another satellite’s destruction, potentially leading to a chain reaction that would make space travel nearly impossible for the near future. This phenomenon is called the “Kessler Syndrome.”

NASA and others have brainstormed ways to overcome this problem. This informational video suggests space magnets, lasers, or nets to start clearing away the debris. 

Though thousands of satellites fly over our heads, we normally don’t give them a second thought. 

Do you think of God like a satellite? 

I am often guilty of thinking about God like a satellite. 

Satellites are impersonal objects floating through space that we vaguely depend on. We know they’re looking down, but we don’t think much about them, and we leave contemplating them up to the “experts.”

If we don’t guard our minds against a shallow connection to our Father, this attitude reflects how we treat God day-to-day. We know he looks down on us, but we leave God up to pastors and may rarely personally engage with his presence. 

In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning reflects on the passionate love of Christ. He discovered that in the 1800s, Christians often used the identifying phrase “seized by the power of a great affection.” The fact that while we were sinners Christ loved us is a radical reality (Romans 5:8). 

The phrase “seized by the power of a great affection” communicates how deeply Christ’s love takes hold of us as we decide to follow him. 

We shouldn’t think of God as an impersonal being in the sky who sometimes gives us something we want because we’re good Christians. God is both relational and faithful in his sovereignty, drawing us with his affections. 

God is personal and involved, and he orchestrates things for our good (Romans 8:28). Sometimes our good includes discipline (Hebrews 12:11), and often that good will be impossible to see, but, as Dr. Denison profoundly writes: “God redeems all he allows.” 

He is both an impartial judge and a merciful savior. 

We can trust him. Even the most marvelous human invention of the space station will eventually fall out of orbit or become a $150 billion shell of metal hurling around the earth. While humans may fail, and so may our most incredible inventions, God certainly will not. 

Join me in striving to trust God’s sovereignty and renewing our minds to draw closer to Christ in a personal, daily way.