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Space Government Politics

Conquering the LaGrange Points? 911

3laws_safe writes "For decades, people have dreamed about building colonies at the five LaGrange points, intersections in space where gravitational and centrifugal forces balance out to provide orbital stability. But now, the official magazine of the U.S. Space Command advocates seizing control of the LaGrange points before other nations do it. From the article: 'We face the need to control the chokepoints of the solar system.' Arthur C. Clarke, who depicted a LaGrange colony in his classic 1961 novel A Fall of Moondust, is not very happy about this. He argues we should not 'export national rivalries beyond the atmosphere.' Is he right? Or should we prepare for the fact that such rivalries are inevitable, even in space?"
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Conquering the LaGrange Points?

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  • by team99parody ( 880782 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:42PM (#13048232) Homepage
    Personally I think it'd be saddest if those points got claimed to be some military base of any type; as opposed to the ideal launching point for space tourism.

    I'd do more for my kids's personal futures if Virgin Galactic (and I don't even know what country they're in) owned one of them than if any particular company's military base were put there.

  • Be prepared (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nenya ( 557317 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:44PM (#13048254) Homepage
    It's gonna be finders keepers with the LaGrange points. Those who wish to get them should get while the getting is good. I'd much rather the US take control of them than China, who seems to be the only other power with something like the capability.
    Do I entirely trust the US government to be altruistic? No, not really. But I'd rather them be in control than the Chinese, Indians, or Russians. If you had to pick - and you probably do - which would you go for? That's really the question here.
    • by Seumas ( 6865 ) *
      All your lagrange points are belong to U.S.
    • What's the difference? The US will just outsource control of the LaGrange points to the Chinese, Indians, or Russians anyway!
    • by Epistax ( 544591 ) < minus herbivore> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:18PM (#13048610) Journal
      I'd pick cuba. Won't someone PLEASE think of the cigars.
    • "Those who wish to get them should get while the getting is good. I'd much rather the US take control of them than China, who seems to be the only other power with something like the capability."

      Mr President! we cannot afford a LaGrange point gap!

    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:30PM (#13048716) Homepage
      Who says anyone must hold absolute control of the LaGrange points?

      I mean, the same argument could be said for Antarctica -- if we don't turn it into a U.S. controlled territory, the Chinese will! Well, maybe if they were trying to monopolize access to Antarctica, we would care enough to do it first. In the meantime, many countries can conduct their own business on Antarctica and there are no problems.

      Why treat space differently? Why would you, in anticipation of a conflict in the future, create one now? If you treat control of LaGrange as a binary choice -- either us or the Chinese have 100% control with no access at all for the other -- then you will bring that situation about. If you say that we will fight over LaGrange and thus we must claim it now and prevent the Chinese from doing so, then you only give them an incentive to take it for themselves, whether before or after we do.

      I am fully aware that with history as our guide we can predict conflicts in space. Why assume that all such conflicts are unavoidable and that the only choice is preemptive action? History doesn't bear that out at all. History does say that when one side believes war is innevitable, then it is.

      We don't have to go to war with China, over the LaGrange points or anything else. We don't. And only by believing that this is the case will it ever be possible.

      So I say we treat it like Antarctica. Nobody claims it, nobody prevents others from accesing it, everybody benefits. If this model of peaceful coexistence breaks down, well hopefully we're not fools and are prepared. But let's not go creating conflicts where none exist yet, okay?
    • Re:Be prepared (Score:3, Insightful)

      by howman ( 170527 )
      What you are failing to see is that none of the other countries you mentioned give a shit about LaGrange points, let alone will sink their countries curency just to posses something.
      Despite the propaganda coming from the US since the 30's, not everyone feels that they have to own everything in order to be fulfilled or have a rich full life.
      As they grew up with the ideas presented to them by a much more socialist propeganda machine, over the last 70 years, it only makes sence that now as leaders of countr
    • Re:Be prepared (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:41PM (#13048822)
      There really isn't much choice between the Americans, Chinese, Russians, or Indians if you're not a citizen of one of them, with the possible exception that, if you're not Pakistani, you don't have to be worried about being subject to attack by the Indians. All that is irrelevant, anyway.

      The real question here is how the hell do you defend a LaGrange point? They're known positions with no cover. The amount of money and energy required to build an installation at a LaGrange point is vastly more than it would take to overwhelm its defenses with numerous small impactors or beam weapons.

      The idea that the LaGrange points represent some kind of interplanetary chokepoint is plainly being advanced by military officials who are used to operating at low velocities on a more or less two-dimensional surface. In space, the only position that matters is not being near the position you were in when the enemy targeted his fire. Big stationary fortresses don't even make sense on the ground any more; they never made sense in space.
    • Re:Be prepared (Score:3, Insightful)

      by demachina ( 71715 )

      " I'd much rather the US take control of them than China, who seems to be the only other power with something like the capability."

      It depends on how you define "take control" and "capability". If it means putting an unmanned satellite in them then there are a bunch of nations that could do it.

      If you mean put a permenent manned station there, the Russians are the ONLY nation with a proven track record of building and long term manning a space station. The Chinese are pretty much at the Mercury stage in t
  • Dream on... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 14erCleaner ( 745600 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:46PM (#13048267) Homepage Journal
    You don't need a stable solar orbit when you can't even get to low-earth orbit reliably. Let's see how tomorrow's shuttle launch goes, then go back to dreaming about the military domination of the solar system later. Or maybe we can just the the &%$#* international space station finished, ferchrissake...
    • by L-Train8 ( 70991 ) <Matthew_Hawk&hotmail,com> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:08PM (#13048511) Homepage Journal
      Because one general in an obscure military journal tossed out the idea doesn't mean that the US supports this position, is working towards achieving this goal, or really much else.

      Colonizing, or capturing, or whatever exactly the military wants to do with the LaGrange points is decades if not centuries away, and decades if not centuries away from being militarily significant. It is in no way feasable right now, given the ballooning US budget deficit. Our current national debt could not take the strain that the financial burden of such an endeavor would entail. This is nothing more than one soldier's wet dream.
    • Re:Dream on... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tanmi-Daiow ( 802793 )
      You can hardly compare low-earth orbit to stable solar orbit. The environment between the two are completely different. It is harder to get to low-earth because the atmosphere (yes, there still is atmosphere up there) causes insane amounts of friction. Friction, more often than not, causes damage, making low-earth a comparatively high-maintenance venture. Where, if you look at extra-orbital space flight records. They are quite good. We rarely have problems with getting out of the atmosphere and such r
  • Slashdot... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Null_Packet ( 15946 ) <{ten.rehcsod} {ta} {tekcapllun}> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:46PM (#13048272)
    ...Linking to horrible html since 1996.
  • Maybe (Score:3, Funny)

    by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:46PM (#13048278) Homepage
    What if we just chip in and buy the Space Command Generals a few star registry names - maybe that will keep them happy.
  • yes (Score:5, Funny)

    by igotmybfg ( 525391 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:46PM (#13048281) Homepage
    Clearly. I would rather the US control those points than someone frankly and overtly evil.
  • Dimensions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by paiute ( 550198 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:47PM (#13048288)
    Discussions assume that the LP is a tiny patch of ground that can be taken and defended. Really, how large a volume of space does the usable portion of the LP occupy?

    • Re:Dimensions (Score:3, Informative)

      by Benm78 ( 646948 )
      Strictly speaking, a LP does not occupy any space at all, that's why its called a 'point' in the first place.

      If you are slightly off in any direction, you'd 'fall' further in that direction, it is more like the top of a mountain than like the bottom of a valley.

      In practice, any craft or station placed on such a point would need thrusters to stay in place, unpowered it would drift (due to solar wind, particle impact, air leaks and what not) and start 'falling'.

      I guess the region where you can reason
      • Re:Dimensions (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Locke2005 ( 849178 )
        You don't need "thrusters" at all. Just a large loop of wire with electrical current produced from photovoltaics running through it. Add the earth's magnetic field, and you've got a big electric motor that can be used to reposition the station without throwing off any mass.
      • Re:Dimensions (Score:5, Informative)

        by barawn ( 25691 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:37PM (#13048783) Homepage
        L1 and L2 are unstable on the timescale of 23 days.

        L3 is unstable on a timescale of 150 years. That is, it's pretty stable for satellites, just not for planetary bodies. Of course, it also happens to be a friggin' useless orbit, as it never has line of sight visibility with Earth.

        L4 and L5 are stable, so long as the mass of the larger object is greater than 24.96 times the mass of the smaller object. (Yes, it's really that odd number: it's actually 25*((1+sqrt(1-4/625))/2) ).

        L4 and L5 are actually strange. They don't act like classical stability points, like most people think. If you push something away from L4/L5, it doesn't come back to L4/L5. It does, however, begin to orbit L4/L5, and those orbits are stable.
        • L1 is occupied (Score:3, Informative)

          by gkwok ( 773963 )
          The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory [] is currently in orbit at L1.
          • As well as L2 (Score:3, Informative)

            by gkwok ( 773963 )
            L2 is occupied by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe [], and in the future, a telescope [] is planned to occupy that location.
          • Re:L1 is occupied (Score:4, Informative)

            by barawn ( 25691 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @08:32PM (#13049225) Homepage
            None of the Lagrange points can really be "occupied". None of them are stable in the classical sense (i.e. a fixed point in space that everything falls down to). SOHO, WMAP (and in the future, JWST) will all be in orbits about the Lagrange points.

            Just because there's one thing there doesn't mean there can't be others. Plus, the ones we're mentioning here are just the solar Lagrange points. The lunar Lagrange points are all unoccupied (as far as I know...). The lunar L1/L2 are terrific places for a cheap, easy to build space elevator.
        • Re:Dimensions (Score:3, Informative)

          by Keebler71 ( 520908 )
          Actually, you can put a spacecraft at any of the L points and get it to stay there... it may just require a small amount of propellant. For instance, while the L1, L2 and L3 point are all unstable to varying degrees, there are periodic and quasi-periodic (Lissajous) orbits that exist around each of these unstable points. The radii of these halo-like orbits are quite small (at least compared with the distance between the two massive bodies) so they may as well be stationary at the respective L-point (from
    • Re:Dimensions (Score:3, Informative)

      by meckardt ( 113120 )
      Haven't followed the space colonization subject very closely for the last 20 years or so, but the subject was discussed in detail as early as the late 1960's.

      The L4 & L5 points are 60 degrees plus and minus along the moons orbit around the sun. Due to the perturbations caused by the sun and other objects, the precise points are not stable. However, they forces on an object there would be fairly regular, so that it would fall in a kidney shaped orbit on the order of 80,000 miles long around the point.
  • by dtolman ( 688781 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:47PM (#13048291) Homepage
    Even if the conflicts in space are just the diplomatic/political kind (ie - we built a base here first - this section of Mars/Moon/Space is ours), and not the military kind - they are inevitable. The only reason they haven't happened is because there is no reason to claim territory in space - yet. But once it starts, every nation that can will start planting flags... its not a matter of if - its when.
  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @06:50PM (#13048325) Homepage
    It's stupid shit like this that makes other nations despise you.

    I think most American citizens are fine people. It's time for you citizens to wrest control back from the evil scum who run your country.

    If you do not, the inevitable outcome will be further degradation of your personal safety. You can not afford to let this happen.
  • by dtolman ( 688781 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:01PM (#13048435) Homepage
    SOHO, a (joint US/EU project) is in a halo orbit around L1 ( []) and WMAP, a US satellite, is in a halo orbit around L2 - according to their official explanation ( [])

    The WMAP page also explains that the L1 and L2 points aren't as stable as the article implies...
    • The Lagrange points you mention are those of the sun/earth system. The article refers to the earth/moon Lagrange points...

      The moon L1 point is useful for something else - you can build a space elevator from the moon, past the L1 point and with a big weight on the earth side of the L1 point as a counterbalance to the cable itself. This is needed since the moon is tidally locked to earth, which means there's no luna-stable orbit around the moon.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:04PM (#13048466)

    Rumor spreadin' round, Colorado town,
    'Bout that chokepoint at Lagrange,
    (Burt knows what I'm talkin' about)

    Just let me know - if you wanna go,
    To that station on the range
    (Branson gotta hotel fulla nice girls there)

    A-hmm, how, how, ho--*CLANG*owww!

    "Gawddamn, Billy, ah know our guitars look fuzzier in zero-G, an' ah know we can grow us beards longer without trippin' on 'em alla time like back on Earth, but howinnahell's we s'posed to play guitar like this?"

    "Hey Dusty, get the beard outa yer guitar while I sing a verse of Home on LaGrange []!"

    Home, home on Lagrange,
    Where the space debris always collects,
    We possess, so it seems, two of Man's greatest dreams:
    Solar power and zero-gee sex.

    (screeching of guitars and shifting of gears as Billy breaks into the next track and Frank figures out how to use drums in zero-G...)

    Clean slate, O2
    Past low-earth orbit's where I'm goin' to,
    Space suit, peroxide,
    Got Allen's funding and my reason why,
    They're buyin' tickets just as fast as they can,
    'Cause every geek's crazy 'bout an L-5 man...

    Top coat, top hat,
    An overfunded NASA's budget fat.
    Black tiles, white knight,
    Lookin' sharp, ready for flight,
    They're buyin' tickets just as fast as they can,
    'Cause every geek's crazy 'bout an L-5 man...

  • Analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:04PM (#13048473)
    While we're at it, let's grab military control of Antarctica too, 'cause this shit about "sharing" as called for in the Antarctic Treaty just ain't workin' out!

    By 1996, 41 nations, representing more than 80 per cent of the earth's population, had signed the treaty. Of these, 27 nations were full voting members of the treaty organisation.

    Provisions of the treaty can be changed only by unanimous agreement of the voting members.

    The treaty also bans any military operations, use of nuclear weapons, or disposal of radioactive waste in Antarctica; encourages the free exchange of information from scientific research conducted there; and forbids nations from making any new territorial claims on the continent.

    It, however, made no ruling on existing territorial claims.

    Why isn't this a viable model for control of the LaGrange points? Seems like there is a lot less resources to exploit in the LaGrange points than in the antarctic... hell, there aren't even any penguins living in the LaGrange points!

  • Face it. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hobotron ( 891379 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:06PM (#13048487)

    We need competition.

    If there was one thing that drives space exploration its competition, not your starry-eyed dreams of free society, or the wonder to know and explore. There is a reason it was called the "Space Race". For the better part of 35 years we have done mostly nothing in our national space initative, sure we have mars rovers, comet impacting probes, and other devices we have yet to fully understand. But where have WE gone?

    We have sat in the comfort of earth and lower earth orbit for more than 35 years. We have sat here because space has turned from something to have national pride for, to something that really only makes the news with its failures.

    Everyone wants to find fault with NASA, the Administration, some scape goat, (And I will not argue with their faults), but no one wants to see the real reason why we are stuck at home.

    We have no competition. None. No country to upstage us for a long time. There are people who remember why we went to space, and those people wrote this article. Competition is coming though, and we will be hard pressed to catch up, because that is what we will have to do, Catch up.

    Yes we are technologically superior, and probably will be for the forseeable future, but if you can believe, space is not captured by technology, it is captured by the human spirit, the will, the drive that is in all of us, but we have somehow learned to ignore this with our endless safety and budget meetings. Space has been turned into routine.

    Competition will come from China, yes, everyone would like to call them at least somewhat backwards, but that is a dangerous interpratation.

    They are not backwards, but merely held back. Their genetic and social expansion has been curtailed by a government for the better part of thousands of years. Im not just talking about their recent communist regime. They will find their drive one day, and when they do, they will not be stopped. The fatal flaw that our space program has suffered, the degeneration into routine, will not be a factor for a population long held back.

    We as a nation must see this, we must see this coming competition, and thrive on it as we always have. LaGrange Points, Mars, Asteriod Belt, these are places humans can learn to use for our benifit, they are above and beyond critical to our long term survival, and competition will get us there, one way or another.

  • by Sheepdot ( 211478 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:08PM (#13048512) Journal
    ...probably because it is.

    What about all the British, French, Spanish, Dutch colonies in the Americas? They are all happy independent nations now (for the most part) that fought wars, not necessarily with each other, but against their home nations for independence.

    What in the name of God or science makes you think space is going to be any different?

    Think about who would move to a space colony: a pot-smoker wanting to get away from unjust laws on his lifestyle, a Falun Dafa group seeking asylum from persecution, and a libertarian trying to get away from taxes.

    Nations can do their best to try to expand into state out of fear of other nations doing so first, but it's going to be the colonists that end up fighting the wars for these nations, and eventually, wars of independence a few generations later.

    Maybe not every colonist would take up arms, but my assumption is that even of the ones that don't, they will most likely achieve independence anyway (Canada), so why would the US want to be the first?
  • by PsiPsiStar ( 95676 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:10PM (#13048532)
    Bodies in outer space are not supposed to be used for millitary purposes. Interesting that this is essentially a 'territory' which is not a physical body. [] []

    I always thought that outer space would at least prevent people from contesting territory, since area, particularly off of the major planets, seemed so vast relative to the cost of putting things up there. I figured scarcity wouldn't be a problem and the territorial boundaries that nations are based on might be partially undermined.

    I figured space would be libertarian.

    I guess this just re-emphasizes that even in space there are scarce resources which people are going to end up fighting over, and which will necessitate extending national power into outer space, in order to enforce any claims on territoriality.

    • by cpghost ( 719344 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:28PM (#13048697) Homepage

      [...] which will necessitate extending national power into outer space, in order to enforce any claims on territoriality.

      It is also worth noting, that it is extremely hard to enforce anything in space. Any space station (at a Lagrange point or anywhere else) can be knocked off with a minimum amount of effort and energy by a determined nation anyway. Space is such a hard environment that everything but cooperation would result in inevitable casualties.

      We didn't fight the sovjets in space (nor did they fight us there) even when the Cold War reached its hottest phase. A physical confrontation in space would be just plain ridiculous...

      ... though we can't ignore human nature either.

  • by barawn ( 25691 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:30PM (#13048708) Homepage
    I'd be much happier if we conquered the Lagrange points [] first.

    It's not capitalized oddly. It's just spelled Lagrange. As in, Joseph Louis Lagrange.
  • by geekd ( 14774 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:42PM (#13048834) Homepage
    or so ZZ Top says:

    Rumour spreadin' a-'round in that texas town
    'bout that shack outside la grange
    And you know what I'm talkin' about.
    Just let me know if you wanna go
    To that home out on the range.
    They gotta lotta nice girls.

    Have mercy.
    A haw, haw, haw, haw, a haw.
    A haw, haw, haw.

    Well, I hear it's fine if you got the time
    And the ten to get yourself in.
    A hmm, hmm.
    And I hear it's tight most ev'ry night,
    But now I might be mistaken.
    Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm.

    Have mercy.

    - billy gibbons, dusty hill & frank beard

  • by TrueJim ( 107565 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:52PM (#13048918) Homepage
    The Rumsfeld Doctrine on space already promotes its militarization and has now for a while. It's not surprising that U.S. Space Command would agree with the U.S. Secretary of Defense. print []
  • by Cyryathorn ( 6591 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @08:57PM (#13049404) Homepage
    As a conservative, I favor the policy that ensures maximum violence.
  • by Master of Transhuman ( 597628 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2005 @02:23AM (#13051011) Homepage
    I just read Justin Raimondo's latest column over at and he quotes foreign policy analyst Chalmers Johnson as follows:

    Look at the Big Picture through the perceptive eyes of foreign policy analyst Chalmers Johnson, who notes in his book, Sorrows of Empire, that conquerors of all eras have built encampments and forts in subject provinces, but there is something unique about the Americans:

    "What is most fascinating and curious about the developing American form of empire, however, is that, in its modern phase, it is solely an empire of bases, not of territories, and these bases now encircle the earth in a way that, despite centuries-old dreams of global domination, would previously have been inconceivable."

    Aside from the interest groups that benefit economically from a policy of militarism and perpetual war, and such factors as securing oil and other resources, Johnson sees

    "Something else at work, which I believe is the post-Cold War discovery of our immense power, rationalized by the self-glorifying conclusion that because we have it we deserve to have it. The only truly common elements in the totality of America's foreign bases are imperialism and militarism-an impulse on the part of our elites to dominate other peoples largely because we have the power to do so, followed by the strategic reasoning that, in order to defend these newly acquired outposts and control the regions they are in, we must expand the areas under our control with still more bases. To maintain its empire, the Pentagon must constantly invent new reasons for keeping in our hands as many bases as possible long after the wars and crises that led to their creation have evaporated."

    So now these same assholes want to dominate the entire world from the LaGrange Points.
  • by VanillaCoke420 ( 662576 ) <vanillacoke420@h ... m ['otm' in gap]> on Wednesday July 13, 2005 @04:36AM (#13051397)
    "There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again." -John F. Kennedy

    To prepare for national and military rivalry that does not yet exist out there, except for friendly competition, is to create those rivalries.

    Here I was, hoping that maybe space exploration will be one thing that will finally bring us together in peace, for all humankind... Sometimes I think people *want* conflicts and rivalry. If the USA decides to take over and claim certain parts of the solar system, that's just going to make people lose whatever little respect they had for that nation.

    Instead, why not set a good example, by bringing together all nations to some conference where you agree not to bring archaic national rivalry into space?

    No military presence in space, please! We've had lots of it on this planet, and let me tell you, it's not bringing a whole lot of joy.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake