The Semisub Explanation for the Launch Off the California Coast

November 11, 2010

I’ve been largely unemployed, and arguably unemployable, these last few months.  I keep getting calls, and I keep hearing from friends working on new commercial space projects, but I rarely call them back, and when I do it’s either too late or the job would require more from me than I have to give.

About three months back I did have a series of interesting conversations which came to mind yesterday when I was reading about the alleged undisclosed missile launch off the California coast.  A former colleague had recommended me for a consulting opening managing software development for a company that was working on converting abandoned oil drilling platforms into launch pads for commercial satellites and rockets.  In the course of one of the last calls, with the president of the company, I realized that some of the oil rigs they were talking about modifying were semisubs, or floating, mobile oil rigs.  I asked why they’d outfit semisubs as launch platforms, given the added complexity and insecurity of a floating as opposed to rigidly anchored platform, and he never gave me a satisfactory answer, saying only that some of his customers were very keen on having flexible launch windows and being able to control their visibility.  The latter statement I took as meaning that the companies or governments who would buy these semisub platforms wanted to be able to go unmonitored by other companies or governments.  While I could see some legitimacy to private companies or governments not wanting their rivals overly aware of their activities, it (combined with the president’s peculiarly unsettling personality) made me uneasy, and I politely declined the job citing scheduling conflicts.

I should add that I don’t know to what degree a semisub platform could escape or avoid notice, this is all conjecture on my part.  Surely any launch would be detectable by rival governments or companies, and the launch would be tracked back to its source via commercial or government reconnaissance satellites.  Once spotted any traditional slow moving launch platform would have quite a job escaping the watchful eye of a roused satellite.  The possibility occurred to me that since these semisubs have built into their very design the ability to radically alter their buoyancy, perhaps a modified platform could be made to slip most of its bulk just below the waves, or at least right to the waves, where its remaining imprint could be hidden by the wake of the ships covertly tasked with tugging the platform to its new location.  Such a system might be able to escape notice post launch.

What the practical purpose of such a commercial or foreign launch off the California coast would be I don’t know, unless we consider the possibility that some entity was making the radical statement, “We can launch our benign or malignant payloads from anywhere we choose.  You cannot  stop us, you cannot even identify us.”

I’m not saying that’s what happened, of course, perhaps it was just a trick of perspective and high altitude winds toying with a contrail.  The company I talked to didn’t sound as though they were so close to having a viable mobile platform, and I’m not sure if there are any other competitors in that space. Still, it is an interesting possibility to consider, particularly given the rogue nations we all worry about (North Korea and Iran in particular).

John

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Reducing Lives to Dollars

November 11, 2010

It’s been a long four months of mostly solitude. The terms of the divorce have been pretty well worked out now, all that’s left is a judge signing off on the terms we’ve agreed to.  The lawyers got their cut, the state will get its cut, and my wife got hers.  The kids have chosen to keep their distance from me, the process of separation hasn’t been easy, and I suppose it’s just easier for them to treat me like a ghost until things settle down.  Maybe I raised them with too much coddling, because right now I can’t help but wish there was a little more fight in them, more willingness to fight through the awkwardness and give their dad a call, or at least return his.  It’s hard not to be bitter after so many years devoted, in various ways, to growing and securing your family.  I guess you just imagine your end will come with them all around you, you still willingly providing for them.  Instead the end comes early, and they all get the payday early.  But it could have been worse.  My wife, soon my ex-wife, may have selfishly chosen not to stand by me through all this,  but one of the things that first attracted me to her was her fairness, and to her credit she remained fair through the mediation.  She didn’t ask for more than she felt she deserved, and I mostly agreed in principle at least.  There were three or four items I objected to, including her lawyer requesting equity from a mountain cabin an uncle had left me almost twenty years ago.  The cabin had been almost worthless when it was given to me, and wasn’t worth more than $20k now, but I’d fixed that cabin up with my own two hands, working on it every few weekends over a period of years, using only donated scrap materials from a neighbor’s construction business.   That cabin was entirely mine, it was my place away from the world.  It was a little hollow I carved out of this complicated world where I could be and owe no one anything, not time, not attention, not money.  Once it was fixed up I probably only made it out there one or two weekends a year, but just knowing it was out there, available, made every day better.  When I objected to her getting any money out of it she instantly relented and looked apologetic.  I knew the lawyer had put her up to it; they don’t care about morality, they just care about legality, and there’s a world of difference.  She got mostly half of everything else, and she probably deserved it, I think I’m just so deeply offended that I can’t be the one to hand it out, that neither the state nor she trusts me to do the right thing.  I’m probably making all this sound like it’s about money, but that’s what so hurts, that money should be the least of what this dissolution is about.  I hurt every day and will to some degree forever, whether I lose all my money or keep all my money, that pain isn’t just going away.  I’m too old to start again, to recreate the happy home I once had.  I will probably date again, may find love again, but there will be no more of the family I had.  And yet this whole process has been essentially about coming up with a dollar amount that represents our life together, and ensuring she gets paid that amount.  I wish the state cared as much about my emotional well-being as it did about her financial well-being.  What a rotten system we have created for ourselves over these many years of civilization, where the best of our government cares first and foremost about the money of its citizenry, and not their happiness.

John