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SpaceX Rocket Quick Reaction Force

Pentagon futurists are imagining a future in which spaceships, including SpaceX's tail-landing rockets, could play a part in moving people and supplies to any point on earth in less than an hour.

In October 2020, U.S. Transportation Command, or USTRANSCOM, the Pentagon office tasked with shuttling cargo to keep the American global military presence humming, announced that it was partnering with Musk’s SpaceX rocketry company to determine the feasibility of quickly blasting supplies into space and back to Earth rather than flying them through the air. The goal, according to a presentation by Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, would be to fly a “C-17 [cargo plane] equivalent anywhere on the globe in less than 60 minutes,” an incredible leap forward in military logistics previously confined to science fiction. A USTRANSCOM press release exclaimed that one day SpaceX’s massive Starship rocket could “quickly move critical logistics during time-sensitive contingencies” and “deliver humanitarian assistance.” While the Pentagon alluded to potentially shuttling unspecified “personnel” through these brief space jaunts, the emphasis of the announcement was squarely on moving freight.

But USTRANSCOM has more imaginative uses in mind, according to internal documents obtained via FOIA. In a 2021 “Midterm Report” drafted as part of its partnership with SpaceX, USTRANSCOM outlined both potential uses and pitfalls for a fleet of militarized Starships. Although SpaceX is already functionally a defense contractor, launching American military satellites and bolstering Ukrainian communication links, the report provides three examples of potential future “DOD use cases for point to point space transportation.” The first, perhaps a nod to American anxieties about Chinese hegemony, notes that “space transportation provides an alternative method for logistics delivery” in the Pacific. The second imagines SpaceX rockets delivering an Air Force deployable air base system, “a collection of shelters, vehicles, construction equipment and other gear that can be prepositioned around the globe and moved to any place the USAF needs to stand-up air operations.”

(Via TheIntercept)

Robert Heinlein gives a good description of what they want; the shuttle that he describes in Between Planets does point-to-point Earth journeys via near-space:

At first the noise of the blast-off bothered him more than the pressure. But the noise dopplered away as they passed the speed of sound while the acceleration grew worse; he blacked out.

He came to as the ship went into free flight, arching in a high parabola over the plains...

[He] listened half-heartedly to the canned description coming out of the loudspeaker of the country over which they were falling. Presently, near Kansas City, the sky turned from black to purple again, the air foils took hold, and the passengers again felt weight as the rocket continued glider fashion on a long, screaming approach to New Chicago.

Just for fun, see John Varley's description of speedcap in Millennium (1983) for a quick ballistic trip.

The Intercept article also does a good job of discussing the limitations of this approach that would occur to most Technovelgy readers, for example, how do you land a rocket right next to a building in a city and more intriguingly how does it take off?

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