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Space Force

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by hobbsyoyo, Nov 3, 2018.

  1. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    This idea predates Trump by a couple of decades but it's something he's enthusiastically supported.

    Responsibility for space based military activity in the US is largely split between two groups, the US Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). There are other players but neither they nor the NRO are really a part of the discussion to create a Space Force so I'll leave them out of this discussion.

    I would like to leave you with one tidbit about the NRO meant to show the overall scale of space projects we're talking about - NASA got exactly one Hubble Space Telescope while the NRO got over 20 (of various models) and get a new one every 3-5 years, give or take. People have called the Keyhole system (the NRO's telescopes) 'Hubble-class telescopes' when in fact Hubble is a Keyhole-class system, right down to the design flaws that it inherited from that platform.

    Anyways, for the last two decades there has been a bipartisan effort to establish a space force on the grounds that responsibility over space military forces should be removed from the Air Force. There are multiple reasons for it and they tend to echo the fight over the split between the Army and Air Force in the 1940's. These arguments go something like this:
    • The Air Force is primarily built around air power. Space requires different tactics, different technologies, for different purposes. It's a different domain and the Air Force can't be reasonably expected to be in charge of it all.
    • As a consequence of the Air Force being built around air power, all of its marginal dollars tend to get soaked up by overruns in big-ticket development programs like the F-35 and KC-46. This starves the space services within the Air Force of funds for their own R&D/Procurement at a critical time because-
    • The Chinese and Russians (mostly Chinese) are rapidly developing counter-space capabilities and intelligence assets and challenging the US's technological, numerical and logistical advantages.
    • The US has been at war for almost two continuous decades. A direct consequence of this is that promotions to command authority within the various military services is more or less restricted to officers with combat experience. Due to a variety of factors, the military commands that are responsible for space assets are not classified as combat commands. They could be directly supporting soldiers in war zones with intelligence and communications services and actively contributing to battle but they are not classified as combat commands. This means that the kinds of officers that are knowledgeable and committed to space are passed up for commands due to lack of combat experience. The end result is that the upper ranks of space assets are staffed by guys/girls who at best see the assignment as a short stepping stone on their way up the ranks. As such, space suffers.
    This really is a bipartisan, if not super popular, effort. Adam Schiff is the highest-profile active Democrat that supports this or similar ideas. Prior to that, President Obama proposed a Space Corps (analogous to the Marine Corp) and the idea has even attracted support from famous liberal space intellectuals such as Neil deGrasse Tyson. Way back in 2001,Tyson suggested the creation of a Space Force while he served on a panel put together by President George Bush to report on future of the American aerospace industry.

    It has never been a particularly popular position but it has a lot of merits. I actually think this is necessary and to a lesser or greater extent accept the major arguments in favor of such a proposition. My major concerns with this is that it will in effect become a massive giveaway to the military industrial complex. Indeed, the major criticisms against the Space Force are about cost and duplicated effort.

    The current secretary of the Air Force released a report she was ordered to make estimating the cost of creating the Space Force. When the price tag she reported was embarrassingly high ($13 billion over 5 years), Trump's lackey's began spreading rumors that he was threatening to fire her. The bullying worked and she's since publicly come around in full-throated support of the effort but the way the Trump administration handled this highlighted my other huge problem with this proposal: Trump can't be trusted not to screw this up. Also, $13 billion will be a drop in the bucket if this thing happens as the new branch will likely be given a wide berth to spend as it pleases in the name of catching up to the Chinese regardless of how wasteful the spending is.

    What all do you think about the proposal for a Space Force?
     
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  2. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    I do not actually think the Chinese or Russians are ahead in space (as much as it makes sense to frame things that way) but they are making big advancements. China in particular is very open about their intent to dominate outer space militarily, if not open about the technical aspects of their programs. Further, there have been bipartisan calls in Congress raising the alarm about classified briefings on Chinese developments. Apparently there's a lot going on that our intelligence community knows about that they can't speak about in public. Members of Congress have called for selective declassification of some of the reports to highlight to the public the danger of these new development.

    Of course it would be fairly easily to discredit these calls by pointing out the narrative they have constructed is impossible to verify unless and until they get what they want - at which point they could have shifted to some new talking point on the matter should their claims be found overblown. Moreover, given the intelligence community's disgraceful involvement with the justification for 2003's invasion of Iraq it is hard for many people to take claims like these at face value.

    I do, however, tend to believe the overall gist of the reports. China is developing new space technologies that threaten American hegemony over the space sphere and should be opposed on those grounds. I will admit that threat inflation has a long and storied history in the space sphere in the US military-intelligence community but at the same time they aren't always wrong. This is one area that is too important for global economic activity and security to cede ground by failing to keep up.

    Note here that the conversation has almost exclusively been about satellites and ground-based space systems (radars, telescopes, antennas, etc) and not on launch vehicles. I would love to talk about those in the context of this conversation if anyone wants to read it.
     
  3. Kaitzilla

    Kaitzilla Lord Croissant

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    I'm not sure if it is a good idea or not.

    Is the Air Force really not getting the job done?
     
  4. Timsup2nothin

    Timsup2nothin Another drone in the hive mind

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    Is there any job that the air force is actually good at? I mean, they are like a racing team that has ten times the budget of their nearest competitors. They are going to win every race, but does that really mean they are doing a great job? The USAF can and will produce absolute air superiority in any combat theater on the planet if called upon, but logistically they are far closer to the Keystone Kops than a SWAT team.
     
  5. FriendlyFire

    FriendlyFire Codex WMDicanious

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    The US already has NASA
    I feel like any space force is a long long way to go technilogically and will be more akin to Submarine warfare then air warfare. Each space ship probably be tiny caustraphoic things, controling remote weapon drones hunting each other nations spaceships
    Fighting will be stealthy technlogical affairs, of trying to pin point the enemy real ship and hidding behind your weapons drone
     
  6. Timsup2nothin

    Timsup2nothin Another drone in the hive mind

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    Careful. I already pointed out that submarines were the most analogous things to spacecraft in another thread and the rocket scientist was not amused.
     
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  7. uppi

    uppi Chieftain

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    First of all, I am not worried at all about America losing its hegemony over space. Actually, I would prefer them losing it. But I guess, it would be kind of pointless to have a discussion about the US Space Force with that in mind, so I will pretend that I do worry about that.

    So let me ask, what is space hegemony all about? Currently, I can think of these military applications of space technology: communication, reconnaissance, anti-satellite weaponry, ground bombardment, navigation, missile defense. Did I miss anything? So what does it mean to dominate in these areas?

    Communication: You want to be able to communicate with your forces all over the earth. I was under the impression that the American military can already do that, so the only thing that remains is increasing the bandwidth. The question here is, since the technology of space communication is relatively mature, how can you get a significant advantage at reasonable cost? Maybe going optical could do that, but I am not sure that technology is good enough that you want to rely on that (but maybe you just the the military funding that to develop it)

    Reconnaissance: More information is obviously better, but how much information do you need and what are you willing to pay for that. Again, I think there are diminishing returns here, so staying ahead here might cost a lot. Recently, there also has been a lot of effort on aerial reconnaissance (with drones), which can get you much better pictures at lower costs. So how much do you really want to spend here?

    Anti-satellite weaponry: I don't think you should be worried about China or Russia here. Any attack on a military satellite is going to be interpreted as an act of direct war and I don't think that a war is winnable for either side at this point. In fact, I would say that a large scale attack by a nuclear power on the satellites of another nuclear power must be met with a nuclear strike in response, at least in doctrine. Otherwise, you risk losing you warning system for nuclear missile launches. This means that you shouldn't worry that much about it unless non-nuclear powers are really going for that or develop sufficient space capabilities that you want to shoot their satellites down.

    Ground bombardment: This is already covered by ballistic missiles. While you probably want to maintain that capability, I don't think there is much to gain beyond the threat that is already there. Stationing weapons in orbit would be an escalation that is incredibly dangerous (because you and your enemies could launch devastating strikes without much warning), so it is better to not go there at all.

    Navigation: Obviously important, but also already good enough for most applications. Sure, you could try to get millimeter precision, but what military application would need that?

    Missile defense: Theoretically interesting, but so far nobody has made it work in space yet.

    So the question is, where can you spend money efficiently to get an advantage in space that actually matters? I have no idea what the current capabilities actually are and what is missing. The problem is that you cannot have an informed discussion when most of the information is secret. The military industrial complex will always find ways to spend money, but how can you answer the question whether you actually need it?

    Funding the military to develop space technology can bleed over into the civilian sector, of course, and this has happened in the past (e.g. GPS). But if you really want to develop civilian technology, you should fund that directly instead of going via the military. Having a Hubble telescope based on Keyhole technology is obviously nice, but it would be nicer if there had been several space based telescopes and a few less reconnaissance satellites.
     
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  8. HoloDoc

    HoloDoc Chieftain

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    A branch of the military explicitly based around space will be better at dealing with space than a branch that combines air and space activities. That's just a matter of priorities.

    I would prefer the US simply properly fund NASA. But Space Force is better than most funding space research at all. With that said, I agree with the OP; Trump cannot be trusted not to screw this up.
     
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  9. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    One thing I forgot to add to the OP that's highly relevant - there is one element of the Space Force plan that is 100% going to happen and pretty much everyone agrees should happen. The Air Force is standing up a US Space Command as a combatant command. Not a whole lot is changing as there are already space groups within the Air Force except now they will be grouped within a separate command that itself is considered to be an active participant in combat. Going forward, this should fix the problem of space nerds within the USAF getting shut out of promotions within their own field of expertise.


    They are but not especially efficiently or enthusiastically. It's a bit of a distraction from the core Air Force purpose. What is indisputable is that the US has a commanding lead in the space domain which undermines the arguments in favor of a separate Space Force.



    Nah. Space warfare (should it come to pass) would be a rather boring affair. It will consist of ground networks being hacked and satellites being jammed with massive amounts of radiation from the ground. There would be a few interceptors fired to shoot down satellites (most will miss) and maybe a curve ball when a Russian or Chinese miniature satellite detaches from a host satellite to go grab an American satellite. Of course, due to the distances involved this will take days or weeks to play out and we'll be actively trying to hunt down the little buggers - if they can be seen at all which isn't a given.

    It really won't look anything like sea or air warfare.

    No this is fair game, please expand on your point. I don't think you would particularly like the outcome should the US lose hegemony over space. If anything, US domination has created more or less a safe zone for the rest of the world to develop and use outer space for economic and passive military use (reconnaissance). The legal framework for space launch, space tracking, orbital location assignments and many commercial activities were set up by the US. While the US by no means outright controls these processes, the fact that they work has a lot to do with the stable environment the US has helped foster. Moreover, a huge amount of the infrastructure that makes space economically/scientifically viable is based in the US.

    This infrastructure includes:
    The US provides the leading space debris monitoring and alerting service. A majority of the world's deep space communications dishes are American owned - as are the leading in-space communication networks both for satellites/spacecraft use (TDRSS) and ground use (Iridium, Globalstar). GPS is still the only 100% complete navigation system and its free for everyone to use. A ton of the legal coordination involved for space activities happens with the US as a major participant if not just happening in the US outright. The US also enforces rigid sanctions which are intended to help slow and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction based on space technology.

    The sanctions do tend to go overboard and have a somewhat harmful effect on non-US economic activities in space. However, at the end of the day this is an area where I think we all benefit from more rigid rather than less rigid sanctions. I would prefer that WMD and anti-space technologies be contained so much as these things can be contained at all.


    You're pretty much spot on with your assessment of what space hegemony means but you left out a crucial aspect (though you sort of get at it with anti-satellite weaponry). The major problem right now is denial of space technologies. China and Russia are both working on weapon systems meant to blind, jam, or otherwise destroy space infrastructure. This comes in many flavors from jamming dishes on the ground to extensive hacking networks meant to go after space systems (both ground and space segments of these systems) and are also actively developing systems literally meant to go grab American and European satellites, jam them from close range or spy on them close up. And all of this is on top of the traditional 'shoot a missile at a satellite' type of anti-satellite weapons.

    The Russians have been particularly active in this field in ways that have tipped their hat to the public. The Chinese have been developing similar technologies but have done a better job of keeping it secret.

    I do take your point that with so much of these activities happening in a shadowy environment that it's difficult to assess fact from fiction with publicly available information. That's why I agree with the congresscritters who call for selective declassification by the US intelligence community.

    One other thing I have to disagree with - attacks on space infrastructure are not necessarily seen as an act of war or at least do not necessarily escalate into full blown war by themselves. Jamming has happened before and hacking in particular is becoming more common by the day. Moreover there have been reckless use of anti-satellite weapons by the Chinese which have created major debris problems for the entire globe. While the US has tested anti-satellite weapons before they have been used against targets that were already decaying out of orbit which meant the debris was mostly gone in a few weeks and was low enough to begin with to not be much of an issue. The Chinese shot down a bird in a high, stable orbit and instantly created between 25 and 50% of all of the space junk in orbit.

    Given the fragility of our space based infrastructure, I do not want a wide dispersion of un-countered anti-space weapons. The worry I have is that every capability the Russians and Chinese develop that goes unchecked provides an opportunity for them to do Bad Things (TM) they wouldn't do in a more contested environment.
     
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  10. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    It should also be noted that both China and Russia have recently created their own Space Force equivalents and the civil space agencies of both nations (China especially so) are directly tied to their military. China especially has no real concept of separation between their NASA-equivalent and their Space Force-equivalent and they have been extremely vocal in their desire to develop and deploy space weaponry (from space and ground-based kinetic weapons to lasers to jamming to hacking). And these are not idle claims, both China and Russia have been engaging in a lot of activity in these spheres.

    China in particular is believed to be developing space-based weapons (as in actual missiles and such, though you can't overlook the types of weapons that don't rely on kinetics for effect) and the Russians have already deployed weapons to space. Their manned military space stations included autocannons and the first launch of the rocket used to carry their space shuttle actually contained a massive space laser weapon system (the launch failed). Current treaties do not forbid the stationing of non-WMD weapons in space and both of those adversaries are exploiting that fact.

    Moreover, the Europeans have sort of decided to sit the military space sphere out and are extremely reliant on US assets to maintain and defend their own space-based infrastructure for military use.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
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  11. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    I would like to reemphasize my point that in spite of all of the merits of this proposal there is a 0% chance the Trump administration won't bungle this. Also, it's not nearly popular enough to pass in our current political environment - especially if Republicans lose their total control over Congress. In other words a Space Force won't happen but it's fun to talk about.

    Paging @Takhisis as he previously requested

    Also hoping @Dachs might shed some historical light on how the Army Air Corps/Air Force split shook out
     
  12. HoloDoc

    HoloDoc Chieftain

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    Just expanding on your point about how the Air Force is getting the job done, but not especially efficiently or enthusiastically; militaries are essentially bureaucratic departments. A bureaucracy (almost) always tries to maximise its funding and pursues its core goals. The simple fact that the USAF is focused on aerial combat with a bit of space means they are institutionally geared towards de-emphasising space in favour of air.

    In my home country, Australia, we recently had our neofascist regime conservative govt. develop the Home Affairs Dept., a super-ministry which controlled immigration, customs, and policing. The fact that it was under the control of Nazi Potato Peter Dutton increased the capacity for abuse, but the dept. itself had very little focus. Within a few months, Immigration was removed from the Home Affairs Dept. while this was reported as being punishment for Dutton's failed coup attempt, it was actually already in the works; HA was simply too bloated for any of its sub-ministries to be run with any degree of efficiency.
     
  13. red_elk

    red_elk Warlord

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    Do you think Russia and China would want to destroy this safe zone and other regulations which exist now? It seems there is no reason to do that, since everybody benefit from them. The fact that they develop asymmetrical military measures to counter US advantage in space, also seems logical thing to do.
     
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  14. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    Extremely good point. The answer is yes, I do believe Russia and China would have a destabilizing (if not outright destructive) effect on the ability of the world to exploit and harness space peacefully. Russia is already engaging in dangerous proximity operations around civilian European and American satellites. Russia has already deployed weapons to space (and a weapon deployed is a weapon that can be used). China has already created massive debris problems.

    Moreover, while I do not at all pretend that the US a purely virtuous actor in all this it is undeniable that the US has set up systems that benefit everyone at US taxpayer expense. Space debris tracking is a massive benefit to everyone. If the US hadn't opened GPS for worldwide use for free, the Russian and Chinese equivalents would likely not be free for use globally. I just have not seen many things that the Russians and Chinese have done to support global use of outer space. The US has. Therefore I am in favor of the status quo.

    However, I am not naive or a pure nationalist. I do expect Russia and China to develop their own counter-space programs. And that's fine. The issue here is not how to prevent that rather it is how to check it such that the status quo is maintained. That's a very different proposition.

    Another amusing Hubble anecdote -

    When Hubble launched, it had 2 major problems. The first was a problem with the mirror assembly, which is rather famous and was entirely caused by NASA ineptitude. The other problem is kind of unknown to the public and it is that when Hubble goes into eclipse, the solar arrays it uses 'shudder' as they rapidly cool down. This throws off the ability of the telescope to maintain the hyper-stable pointing it requires for deep space observation.

    The Keyhole satellites (on which Hubble was based) had this same problem - however, because they were looking at the ground (which is muuuuch closer than stars) their need to point stably is much lower than Hubble's. As a consequence, Keyhole has the same shuddering problem but it causes it no issues. Because it causes Keyhole no issues, no one in the intelligence community thought to tell NASA about the problem. When NASA discovered the issue the intelligence community kind of went, 'Oh yeah, that's totally a thing that happens' and NASA facepalmed. It took them a while to work out a solution to the problem that could have been avoided before launch had the intelligence community been a bit more attentive.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
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  15. HoloDoc

    HoloDoc Chieftain

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    One reason to be wary of Russian and Chinese moves in space is that the US is primarily concerned with retaining its hegemony and penetrating states economically. Russia and China are interested in overturning that hegemony, and, especially in Russia's case, penetrating other states militarily. That's a potentially very destabilising situation.
     
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  16. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    As for why Russia or China would disrupt space - it's because they are not responsible for the status quo. It's very easy to disrupt fragile systems that hurt your opponents compared to the task of building those fragile systems. I don't think Russia and China will try and disrupt everything on purpose more that they will do it is as a byproduct of reaching their own objectives. China wasn't trying to create a massive debris problem, they just did that as a consequence of developing their own ASAT weapons and don't care about the fallout. If Russian spy satellites had accidentally collided with their European targets during proximity operations they wouldn't have been trying to do that on purpose, it would have been an unintentional consequence of trying to build up their spying/ASAT capacity. Without any checks these sorts of activities will only increase.

    @HoloDoc made the point I am trying to make more succinctly
     
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  17. HoloDoc

    HoloDoc Chieftain

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    There is also an issue that, if the US ever went to war with Russia or China (Odin save us) a last-ditch, desperate measures space weapon is definitely possible. The expanding debris field from the film Gravity is a real possibility; it's known as Kessler syndrome, and would knock us back decades, minimum. If it's bad enough, it could be an extinction-level event. It's portrayed as an accident in the film, but a country losing a war would be very tempted to cripple their enemy with an intentional ablation cascade.
     
  18. red_elk

    red_elk Warlord

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    Well, that's the same point - Russia and China develop space weapons, which are defensive by nature, just like ICBMs (because no one would want to use them first, for obvious reasons). USA, I'm pretty sure has all this stuff too. Arms race can be destabilizing, but I think all participants should take responsibility for that.

    As far as I know, scientific community has access to Russian tools (such as Spektr-R, etc.) and uses them according to international policies. There's just not too many of these tools left, but this is entirely different problem. Navigational systems, Russian and Chinese are also made public. This is a fact and whether it's because GPS was made public first, is only assumption. Generally, my impression is that all sides play by the same rules, more or less. One side dominance is not always a good thing, in many cases healthy competition won't hurt.
     
  19. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    My impression is that the rules people play by were largely set up by the US and China and Russia are intent on changing those rules. Also, the weapons being talked about are not purely defensive in nature even as much as you can reasonably claim a weapon is purely defensive - which is dubious in my book. Reconnaissance satellites are really the closest it comes to purely defensive but they are used in offensive operations all the time, undermining that tenuous claim. Moreover the kinds of new reconnaissance satellites under development can engage in proximity operations which means at a bare minimum they have the capacity to act offensively through collisions or could otherwise take on hostile, offensive actions by close-range interference or even physical manipulation/disruption of their targets.

    So far one-sided dominance in space has played out to everyone's advantage. I do not see a compelling reason to change this in favor of any nation, much less two nations with less than stellar track records in this area and with the stated intention of militarizing and disrupting space (in China's particular case).

    To sort of steer things back on target I think the establishment of a separate Space Force would really help maintain one-sided dominance. I don't think it's necessary but it would help. And if done correctly, it could certainly help reign in massive overspending on space services for the military. The Air Force has proven far to often to be in cahoots with contractors. This had directly contributed to massive overruns for acquisition programs for airplanes, rockets and satellites. I think a new force could do better though it may fall into the same problematic patterns. What it would definitely do better is to fund development programs and buy hardware that is better suited for developing situations in the military space sphere.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
  20. hobbsyoyo

    hobbsyoyo https://thespacecadetblog.com/

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    I wrote up a description of Hubble's mirror problem (and how NASA directly caused it) in the Space Cadet thread for those that are interested.
     
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