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In the story idea I'm working on, I'm using the polandball/polish space marines meme as a starting point for the titular space-faring organization. In the story, the meme exists as a way to cast doubt over whether Poland actually has a working space program.

The problem is, how would the Polish government (from anytime starting let's say in the 1990s to the near future (2040s?)) be able to get a spacecraft into space and out of Earth's orbit without anyone (including its own citizens) knowing about it? It would be easy to see a rocket being launched, and there are satellites and radars everywhere. The US/Russia/etc might also mistake the spacecraft for an ICBM launch or something of the sort. With all of the expenses involved with launching the spacecraft, how would the Polish government explain where the money went to its citizens? How would the government keep those who were involved in the program from talking about it? How would they recruit astronauts?

As far as what's being launched into space, the polish space marines are looking to establish a fleet of ships that would stay in space permanently; the astronauts would also never return to Earth. To do this they would also require a lot of equipment to grow food, manufacture new equipment, build new ships, etc. To get all of this stuff into space, you can launch one large ship or many small ships, but they have to get into space and out of Earth's orbit without being detected.

The ultimate goal would be to have a fleet of ships that can reach the asteroid belt to hide in, and to mine raw materials from to expand even more.

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    $\begingroup$ If this is a Polandball story, have you considered Troll Physics? $\endgroup$ – eimyr Jan 28 '15 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'd like it to be a more serious attempt at the story, so it should be at least somewhat realistic $\endgroup$ – qwerty1 Jan 28 '15 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ Hi qwerty1, and welcome to Worldbuilding and Stack Exchange. Nice first question! I would encourage you to register an account; see Why should I create an account? and How do I create an account? in our help center for more information. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 28 '15 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ How did SPECTRE do it in You Only Live Twice? Maybe Poland has a secret island volcano base. Just make sure it has plenty of piranha tanks, and watch out for Secret Service ninjas. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Jan 28 '15 at 19:17
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Disguise it as something else.

For example, maybe DirectTV - launched in 1994 - is actually a Polish corporation behind the scenes, and all DirectTV satellite launches also secretly include supplies, spacecraft parts, or the occasional space marine.

You will need to handwave a few things - namely the mass launched, and your space marines have to be tough to take the accelerations - but it's well within the meme. Maybe DirectTV has an unusually high failure rate on satellites, meaning you've been able to make many more launches than would be strictly necessary to just provide entertainment. And the profits from your cover company help you hide the cost from your civilian population.

As a bonus, you get to incorporate "Get Rid of Cable" Polandball commercials into your story: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/directv-get-rid-of-cable-commercials

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  • $\begingroup$ Hide in plain sight. Excellent premise. +1 $\endgroup$ – JohnP Jan 28 '15 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't DirectTV a publicly traded company? If so, they have to report their revenue and expenses. Buying ship components and hiring all of those extra people would lead to suspicion. Also, what happens when the extra parts separate from the tv satellite? $\endgroup$ – qwerty1 Jan 28 '15 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ Could be. That was the first 90s one my google search came up with, and I was amused by the thought of the commercials + polandball so I ran with it. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Jan 28 '15 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @qwerty1 that is when your space marine team comes in and does the separation - there aren't that many NSA cameras in space (yet). Also, reporting revenue/expenses to whom? a company that is hired by the government? should be easy to hand-wave it away if the government wants, as they are the ultimate boss. And seriously, what kind of auditor would be able to tell what is a ship component vs a satellite component? $\endgroup$ – user2813274 Jan 29 '15 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ This was going to be my suggestion or similar - an older person gave me some advice once: "If you don't want people to notice something that can't be hidden, make a feature of it" - and it works every time. Make it so obvious that people never think twice about it. +1 $\endgroup$ – 5Diraptor Oct 14 '16 at 13:25
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Use space planes instead of rockets and give the planes intermittent stealth abilities. In this way, they can take off from Poland, like any other plane and fly in plain sight to some location where the ground clutter is too think for comprehensive radar tracking. Mountain ranges would probably be best for this phase of the journey.

Then with the plane reconfigured into stealth mode, it could navigate to a ground radar free zone (see edit below) before firing its booster rockets to make orbit. With any luck, any satellite seeing the rocket's trail would mistake it for some space junk incinerating upon re-entry.

Even if a satellite clearly saw that it was a space plane had entered orbit, it is headed for the asteroid belt and not coming back, so tracking it further won't reveal anything about its origin. Also, given the stealth, use of radar free zones and mountain ground clutter, there would be no way to trace the plane's pre-orbital journey back to its country of origin. They might know that someone is out among the asteroids, but they wouldn't know who.

-- edit to resolve my under-estimation of ground radar range --

Since ground radar apparently has no height limit, avoiding it will take more than just altitude. It will take knowledge of where the radars are looking and more importantly, where they are not. Recent airliner disappearances suggest that there are vast ranges of airspace, possibly near the centers of each ocean, where no high powered radar is watching. The trick would be finding them and confirming that they actually are radar free. I imagine that if a government is wealthy enough to build a fleet of space planes, they can probably afford a little research and investigation. Then, with a map of the world's radar free zones, their doorway to the sky would be open.

-- edit to resolve my under-estimation of height on visibility --

Apparently, the cold war has spawned an unexpected side effect of cutting private enterprise and Central European republics from having covert access to space. Makes me wonder how the UFO's get in and out of our airspace undetected. Maybe that's the answer... have the space plane transmorph into a saucer shape just before it fires the boosters. Then when the star wars missle detection systems and nsa satellites detect the ship leaving our gravity well, they'll just write it off as another martian tourist and ignore it.

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    $\begingroup$ There is effectively no limit to ground radar range. Every loose bolt in orbit is tracked. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Jan 28 '15 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ In response to your edit, the higher you get, the more visible you are. MH370 vanished because, at a cruising altitude of only 12km or so, the horizon is less than 400km away. At a low-orbit altitude of 300km, you can be seen from 2000 km away. Get up to 1000km, and missile-defense radars will spot you. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jan 28 '15 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ That's not really how spaceplanes are supposed to work. To get any benefit (and serious payload capacity), you need to get as much velocity as you can in the upper atmosphere on air-breathing engines, and that leaves one hell of a trail. We're talking up to mach 20 or thereabouts, at which point you're basically flying a barely controllable fireball. That is accelerating. No amount of stealth helps at that point, though you might be able to keep people guessing at who's launching what. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Jan 30 '15 at 10:52
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Perhaps Poland could engage in some very deep mining...

What if they built a very long Space (Rail)-Gun into the Earth?

Escape velocity for Earth is about 11.2 km/s. The problems usually faced by the space gun is that the acceleration required is too much for humans to survive. However, if the ship wasn't blasted out the end via an explosion, but perhaps accelerated via a railgun-type mechanism, the ship could move at a far more leisurely acceleration over a longer distance.

If our intrepid, space-faring Polandballs were to accelerate at 1g ($9.81 \text{ m/s}^2$), the launching tube would need to be:
$\frac{v_\text{escape velocity}^2}{2g} = 6400\text{ km}$
Which incidentally is just greater than the radius of the Earth ($6378\text{ km}$)...

The tube wouldn't have to be straight though the Earth either. All the tube would need to do would be to exit the earth at least 60.22° away from Poland. Of course, this couldn't be a straight tube, as the vertical velocity would be reduced at 60°.

You could solve for $\theta$ in

$2\sqrt{aR}\sin^\frac{3}{2}(\frac{\theta}{2}) = 11.2\text{ km/s}$

where a is the acceleration and R is the radius of the Earth.

Wolfram Alpha gives the value $\theta = 105.186^\circ$

Advantages of this method:

  • It's ballistic, so no rocket trails for people to notice. (until you reach your desired altitude; to reach orbit you would need to fire horizontally)
  • The vehicle wouldn't exit anywhere near Poland, allowing for further deniability.
  • They could state that they are engaging in particle physics (pretending the tube is a particle accelerator (which, in some ways, it is)) or mining, to excuse their operations.

On the other hand, it would be very loud. However, you could make sure that the exit point is isolated.

The only other issue would be power, although I suspect that this isn't quite so much of an issue.

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  • $\begingroup$ The launching tube doesn't have to be straight. It can be a circle with an attached short 60º ramp exit. You just go round and round in the circle until you reach the desired speed. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/88/Launch_ring.jpg $\endgroup$ – orkoden Feb 16 '15 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ I had thought of that first, actually. The problem is centripetal acceleration: given by the formula $a_c = \frac{V^2}{r}$ With escape velocity of 11.2km/s, to maintain a maximum centripetal acceleration of 1g, requires a ring with a radius of 12.8 billion km! $\endgroup$ – BM- Feb 22 '15 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ That's not even addressing the change in plane at the exit ramp, which would also need a radius of $12.8\times10^{13}$m $\endgroup$ – BM- Feb 22 '15 at 22:31
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You're not going to get into space without the superpowers knowing. Remember, our satellites saw the SAM launch that brought down the plane over the Ukraine. A SAM uses a much smaller rocket than anything that can put a person in orbit.

Another poster suggested spaceplanes--while a spaceplane can get a lot of velocity as an air-breather without showing up on anybody's satellites they eventually have to turn to rocketry and that's still going to leave a fiery trail for the satellites to see.

A supergun was also suggested. Even if you can overcome the various problems with using guns for atmospheric launch you're still going to have a huge thermal signature as your space capsule smashes through the lower atmosphere. While I don't know if the satellites will note this I certainly wouldn't expect to get away with it. Those are military satellites, they're designed to look for disguised missile launches.

A launch loop avoids the thermal signature but there's no hiding construction of that size. Besides, a launch loop won't even fit in Poland.

Thus there's no stealthy way into space. The only way you'll be able to pull it off is to hide who is doing it. Build a submersible facility that serves both as the final assembly building and the launch platform. Everyone will know that somebody has a stealthy space program, they just won't know who. Eventually the US will figure it out, though--sooner or later you're going to launch too close to a lurking fast attack sub and it will find you. Once it gets close enough the game is up--even if by some miracle you evaded the sub they'll get pictures and a sound signature and will be able to match that up to something they see docking in Poland. Pre-collapse I would say that Russia would have also figured it out, these days I don't know what their submarine patrols are like.

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