What Happens If Hostile Aliens Attack? The US Military Has a Team in Place

The Space Aggressor squadrons develop strategies to defend against space-oriented attacks. 

 

Alien Invasion.
An alien invasion. Pixababy.

Scientists have all kinds of reasons why aliens won’t try to fly to Earth and enslave humanity. Even so, the US Military has a backup plan, just in case. Two Air Force teams, the 26th Space Aggressor Squadron (26th SAS) and the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527th SAS), are tasked with protecting assets in space, developing strategies to secure US space-based interests, and plans that involve deflecting extraterrestrial invaders. Both are based in Colorado.


The hostile invasion scenario may not be their topmost concern. Space is big, after all. We’ll probably see any shifty aliens coming from far off, and have time to prepare for their arrival. Instead, protecting our satellite infrastructure is their utmost priority. The US, more than any other country, has come to rely on a system of satellites. Consider driving somewhere you’ve never been before without GPS. Scary, I know.

The GPS system contains a network of 31 satellites, which are owned by the US government and run by the US Air Force. Take one out and navigation goes bye-bye. It isn’t just civilians who rely on it, but the US military itself. Without GPS, US forces lose their battlefield advantage, having to revert to older forms of communication and navigation.

GPS Satellite Constellation. National Air and Space Museum, The Smithsonian Institute.

It isn’t just that but civilian life is set back decades. Bank transactions, stock prices, weather reports, air traffic control, and in some cases, even traffic lights are reliant on satellite infrastructure. Executive director of the Office of Space Commerce, Ed Morris, recently authored a disturbing report, outlining the repercussions of an attack on our satellite system. He wrote, “If you think it is hard to get work done when your internet connection goes out at the office, imagine losing that plus your cell phone, TV, radio, ATM access, credit cards, and possibly even your electricity.”

Because of this, Defense Department advisor, Peter Singer, contends that the next war will begin in space. North Korea or a non-state actor getting their hands on a rocket is one scenario. However, the immediate threats are Russia and China. Tensions with these countries have ramped up lately.

Both have assets that can take out US satellites. China has the "Shiyan.” Using its robotic arm, it can grab a satellite, and fling it out of orbit. The Middle Kingdom is also developing lasers, electro-magnetic rail guns, and high-powered microwaves to disrupt satellite systems. Russia meanwhile has the "Kosmos 2499." This device can approach a satellite and disable or destroy it. In light of these developments, US officials are beginning to take space-based warfare seriously.

In 1982 the US Air Force Space Command was created. Today, it has 134 locations globally, employs 38,000, and has an annual operating budget of nearly $8.9 billion. The Pentagon’s space budget in total is $22 billion. Those in the 50th space wing, a group of over 8,000 men and women, are in charge of monitoring the skies. They have no actionable capabilities, for now.

Tech. Sgt. Steven St. John, 527th Space Aggressor Squadron. U.S. Air Force.

In 2015, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work recognized the growing threat to the country’s assets in orbit. He said that the US had to become "ready to do space operations in a conflict that extends into space." The aggressor force was born.

Captain Christopher Barnes is the chief of training for 26th SAS. He told Seeker, “We study threats to the space realm, either coming from space or based on land. If we can’t directly replicate them with hardware, then we figure out if there’s a software solution or some way we can train people to the point where they can fight through them, if they have to, in a conflict.”

One tactic they’re trained in is “brute force jamming.” Here, satellite networks send signals that make transmitted messages garbled to those who may be listening in. SAS also runs simulations on how to respond to land-based and space-based threats. Right now, their weapons systems are in the conceptual stage. Plans are being made to allow for defensive and even offensive capabilities.

These include utilizing the US Navy’s Laser Weapons System (LAWs). One is already aboard the USS Ponce, stationed in the Persian Gulf. LAWs can shoot down projectiles, light aircraft, and drones, as well as jam enemy communications and monitoring systems.

Another possible candidate is the X-37b—a secretive space drone. Some military watchers consider it capable of espionage, and it’s possibly equipped with defensive or even offensive capabilities. In addition to these efforts, the US is also collaborating with allies, through the Multinational Space Collaboration effort, to build up mutual defense systems.

To learn more about the US Air Force’s Space Command, click here: 

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

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  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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