Space: December 11, 2003


Last month, the U.S. put a new kind of satellite into orbit, the XSS-11. This bird has robotic capabilities and was designed to change orbits so it can photograph other satellites, or just objects (like space junk) in orbit. The XSS-11 (Experimental Small Satellite) weighs about 230 pounds, uses a laser radar (lidar) to check out nearby objects, and is mobile enough to go after other objects in space. The XSS birds are also designed to operate on their own, without commands from a ground station. What is not said is that the XSS-11 could also destroy other satellites. Well, that has been said, but quietly. The main idea for XSS-11 is to check out larger, and more expensive satellites, for possible repairs. Larger versions of the XSS series could be sent up to actually make the repairs. Coming close to another object in orbit is not easy, but the XSS-11 sensors and navigation computer are up to the task. Earlier this year, the XSS-10 was launched and it demonstrated how a smaller satellite could rendezvous and circle another satellite. As an anti-satellite weapon, you could launch over a dozen XSS bits in one launch, and have them search and destroy enemy satellites, or enemy anti-satellite satellites. 


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