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Say we have a fascist government that plans to use a kinetic strike weapon upon another country, but in this world, the Outer Space Treaty has been refined to not only include forbidding WMD's in orbit, but so much as simply deploying personal firearms into space would be violations of the treaty as well. The kinetic strike weapon is 110 meters by 80 meters by 50 meters and generates tremendous amounts heat, but only when it launches a tungsten rod at its target.

The fascists have no intentions of hiding the weapon after their first use of it, primarily for intimidating their foes by making them think that the rods could fall on them at any moment. But is there any possible way of keeping the weapon's existence virtually unknown until they do use it?

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A satellite bigger than the International Space Station (ISS) could not be disguised as space debris. Considering ISS was assembled and constructed in space, this makes it the biggest human fabricated object in Earth orbit. If anything bigger than that was launched and place in Earth orbit, it would be even bigger than ISS. This means it would attract considerable attention and subject to careful surveillance.

The United States Strategic Command already maintains surveillance on known orbital objects including space junk. Space junk is cataloged and accurately tracked.

Space debris, Space junk, Space waste, Space trash, or Space litter is the collection of defunct human-made objects in earth orbit, such as old satellites, spent rocket stages, and fragments from disintegration, erosion, and collisions – including those caused by the space debris itself. As of December 2016, five satellite collisions have resulted in generating space waste.

As of 5 July 2016, the United States Strategic Command tracked a total of 17,852 artificial objects in orbit above the Earth,[1] including 1,419 operational satellites.[2] However, these are just objects large enough to be tracked. As of July 2013, more than 170 million debris smaller than 1 cm (0.4 in), about 670,000 debris 1–10 cm, and around 29,000 larger debris were estimated to be in orbit.[3] Collisions with debris have become a hazard to spacecraft; they cause damage akin to sandblasting, especially to solar panels and optics like telescopes or star trackers that cannot be covered with a ballistic Whipple shield (unless it is transparent)

Even with ground-based tracking orbital traffic is monitored in great detail and with high precision.

Radar and optical detectors such as lidar are the main tools for tracking space debris. Although objects under 10 cm (4 in) have reduced orbital stability, debris as small as 1 cm can be tracked,[92][93] however determining orbits to allow re-acquisition is difficult. Most debris remain unobserved. The NASA Orbital Debris Observatory tracked space debris with a 3 m (10 ft) liquid mirror transit telescope.[94] FM Radio waves can detect debris, after reflecting off them onto a receiver.[95] Optical tracking may be a useful early-warning system on spacecraft.[96]

The U.S. Strategic Command keeps a catalog of known orbital objects, using ground-based radar and telescopes, and a space-based telescope (originally to distinguish from hostile missiles). The 2009 edition listed about 19,000 objects.[97] Other data come from the ESA Space Debris Telescope, TIRA,[98] the Goldstone, Haystack,[99] and EISCAT radars and the Cobra Dane phased array radar,[100] to be used in debris-environment models like the ESA Meteoroid and Space Debris Terrestrial Environment Reference (MASTER).

All of this clearly indicated that any piece of purported space junk bigger than the ISS would be tracked, cataloged and subject to minute analysis concerning its function and purpose.

The fascist nation in preparing to drop "rods from god" on unsuspecting enemy nations couldn't be done in secret. Just launching the orbital kinetic weapon satellite would be warning enough. There is a high probability that many other nations would mobilize their antisatellite weapons in preparation to destroying it at the slightest provocation. A tungsten rod from orbit exceeds the usual bounds for slightest provocation. Expect this orbital weapon to be subject to multiple attacks from the majority of other nations with space-capacity.

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Come up with a giant multi-stage rocket, and a launch profile that puts an almost empty upper stage roughly into LEO. Since you are a responsible user of orbital space, the stage normally retains enough fuel for a controlled reentry/burnup to avoid space debris.

  • In most test launches, the upper stage would re-enter the atmosphere and burn up spectacularly over the ocean.
  • In a few operational launches, the upper stage expends that fuel reserve to give one last push to the payload (Mars-bound transports?). Either it disappears into an irregular orbit around the sun or it crashes back to Earth in a less controlled manner, "somewhere over the South Pacific."
  • In the weapon deployment launches, extra boosters are strapped to the rocket (it was designed to allow that) and the payload replaces the upper stage. It gets delivered into LEO.

"Sorry, the reentry thruster failed. We'll salvage it one of these days. Still ours, do not touch."

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I'd say that there is a fair chance that it could be detected unless it is cloaked in a very thorough manner, Considering that they are able to build such a weapon and that a treaty has been made for that, we can also say that their technology is fairly advanced and should be easily able to detect and identify any UFO's in low orbit, even the ISS can easily be seen with the naked eye, and any transmissions to and from the WMD could be easily intercepted, be it by the goverment or by paranoid alien-seekers, so your vessel would need to have a fairly large amount of precautions against that, and most communications should be relayed a few times to avoid identification, and leaving it in low orbit is begging for it to be seen, so it would need to be left in a much higher orbit - other than those setbacks and cautions, it is completely possible for such an weapon to exist and be disguised.

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  • $\begingroup$ Almost all orbital objects larger than about a metre are currently tracked. Your orbital weapon would need some very efficient stealth technology both in the visible and radar bands to avoid being seen at all. It would be easier to pass itself off as miscellaneous space debris but even this is difficult because the shape and tumbling motion of larger debris is tracked. Also, if the weapon actively adjusted its orbit it would give itself away immediately. $\endgroup$ – smatterer Sep 11 '17 at 2:45
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So I have some SME in this :D

First, no disguising satellites as space debris is stupid.

1) We currently track space debris the size of baseballs in space, tracking something as big as the ISS would be routine.

2) Something as big as the ISS could be seen with a telescope. So if you got something that big in space and are lying to everyone calling it debris that is obviously gonna raise concerns.

Now, currently every sattelite in orbit is tracked and identified with purpose and country of origin. Even military satellites. Military satellites usually have no listed purpose, its quite comical really how easy it is to point them out. I suggest looking up a project called "Cesium" if you want to quickly know more about satellite tracking.

How would I hide a weapons grade satellite? in plane sight!

We currently launch all kinds of sattellites into space.

-What would your rod shooting satellite need? A barrel perhaps?

-What other kinds of satellites have barrels? Imagery sattellites like hubble?

-Do we take imagery of our own planet? yes

Answer: send your satellite into space listed as a commercial photo imagery surveying satellite with shell companies to back it up. Maybe use its targeting feeds to provide imagery data to further its cover.

Now, what if another satellites takes scans of it, well you can coat your satellite in some scan resistent material but then you are pretty SOL when people start asking "why does it have scan resistent materials". You would have to arise a lot of suspicion to get someone invested enough to starting battering your satellite with the litany of scans.

You could also just structure your internal structure to resemble an imagery satellite as much as possible.

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