Militarization of Space Continues with Launch of Missile-Tracking Satellite

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What goes up and doesn’t come down, but has the potential to take all sorts of other stuff down?

If you said a bunch of balloons launched by a misguided games publisher in March, you win a point (two, if you guessed a bit torrent file). But if you said a $1.3 billion U.S. geosynchronous military satellite capable of detecting, tracking, and countering enemy missiles, ding-ding-ding!

The U.S. launched just such an orbital device on Saturday, piggybacking on an Atlas 5 rocket. It’s called the Space-Based Infrared System, or SBIRS (best guess, pronounced SPEERS, like the thing you throw), and it’s designed to provide early launch warning, battlefield and other miscellaneous intel, and, you know, to deploy high-tech U.S. kung-fu on enemy missiles.

And this one’s just the start. The SBIRS program calls for three additional satellites in the sky by 2016 and operating in tandem with the first–each orbiting some 22,000 miles above the planet’s surface. They’ll be called SBIRS “high,” while another 24 satellites dubbed SBIRS “low” (more recently “space tracking and surveillance system”) will keep an eye out for ballistic missiles and in theory allow “interceptors” to get on the ball sooner.

Of course not everyone agrees putting weapons (or the precursors thereto) in space is such a grand idea, since it could trigger a space-based arms race with potentially calamitous consequences.