Sunday, November 24, 2002

Orion spacecraft
TCS: Defense - The Road Not Taken (Yet)

Could Orion ever come back? The answer is yes. The Test Ban Treaty is a real obstacle to any future deployment of Orion. However, it binds only a few nations, and many nations (like India and China) that are both nuclear-capable and interested in outer space have never signed it. For an up-and-coming country looking to seize the high ground in space in a hurry, Orion could have considerable appeal. And, of course, even the United States could withdraw from the Treaty, on three months' notice, under the Treaty's own terms.

Orion's scientists weren't worried about fallout. Orion would have produced some, but the amount would have been tiny compared to what was being released already from above-ground tests, and there was hope that additional work would have produced even cleaner bombs designed specifically for propulsion. Today, people are much more nervous about radiation and under current political conditions a ground-launched Orion is a non-starter, at least in Western countries. But not everyone cares as much about radiation, and indeed the countries that worry about it the least are those most likely to find Orion appealing as a way to attain space supremacy over more established space powers in a hurry. What's "Orion" in Chinese?

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