A Veterans Today Exclusive
This is not the plot of a Bond movie although it very well could be, it has all the hallmarks of a cold war spy thriller. Already, the conspiracy-minded folks are having a field day with this, my inbox overflowing with emails proferring potential scenarios, most of them with a distinctly extra terrestrial flavour.
Well, let me disappoint everyone, this was a strictly terrestrial, explainable event where no aspect requires an esoteric, alien or other-worldly theory to explain away.
Let’s begin with the actual explosion itself and what that could teach us about the event. I noticed right away that the explosion of the rocket was not a conventional molecular explosion, the white hot plasma ball was the give-away that this was a nuclear explosion:
However, I’m not the expert on nuclear matters so I called upon the assistance of VT’s resident expert on all things nuclear, Jeff Smith who figured out what had happened almost immediately:
Ian if you hit the lithium ion battery on a rocket with enough x-rays it will explode creating a small nuclear chain reaction as seen with this space-x explosion.
So Jeff confirms it – this was a small nuclear explosion. Space-X does indeed use lithium batteries on the Falcon-9 rocket, as noted on page 8 of the Falcon-9 User’s Guide:
Both the first and second stages host their own multiple redundant lithium-ion batteries to minimize the complexity of the electrical interface
There is more to be discerned from what we can see in the video, as Jeff went on to explain:
Lithium 6 when exposed to large amounts of x rays can create a small fission-fusion reaction called a nuclear trigger. The lens flare (X) was produced by x-ray thermal heating of the air surrounding the optical / x-ray target. I.E. the rocket.
This explains the mechanism used to create the explosion – intense bombardment by x-rays of the lithium batteries on the rocket. Jeff even knew how you would achieve this – by using an X-ray laser.
X-ray lasers have been around for some time, the concept dates to the 1970s and development of x-ray lasers began in the 1980s as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative or the ‘Star Wars Program’ as it was more commonly known. This work has doubtless continued since then and matured in the intervening decades into a practical weapon. See Appendix A for more info on the SDI work on x-ray lasers.
Therefore we can state with a good degree of certainty that the Space-X rocket was destroyed because someone targeted an X-ray laser weapon at the on-board lithium batteries. We know the US has X-ray lasers and it is highly likely that they possess a working X-ray laser weapon, given the 30 years of development time since the first working prototypes.
[ BTW, a humourous aside to this story – when I received the email from Jeff explaining that the rocket had blown up in a nuclear explosion caused when x-rays irradiated the on-board lithium batteries I happened to have a 15 pound lithium battery pack sat on my lap.
I made this pack myself from 18650 type cells, it is to power the electric bicycle I’ve also built. Both Space-X and Elon Musk’s other company, Tesla, use exactly the same lithium-ion technology, for example a Tesla S motor car has just over 6,000 18650 lithium-ion cells.
Anyways, when I read that bombarding these cells with x-rays could create a nuclear explosion I had to laugh as I had a pile of them sat 2 inches from my genitals. Good job there were no x-ray sources nearby! ..Ian]
The concept for x-ray lasers goes back to the 1970s, when physicists realized that laser beams amplified with ions would have much higher energies than beams amplified using gases. Nuclear explosions were even envisioned as a power supply for these high-energy lasers.
That vision became a reality at the time of the Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s, when x-ray laser beams initiated by nuclear explosives were generated underground at the Nevada Test Site. From fiscal years 1986 through 1993, SDIO spent $138 million for nuclear directed energy technology.
[ Editor’s Note: VT has a deep bench when it comes to some of these old programs, via personal contacts. SDI was preceded by a somewhat forgotten High Frontiers effort led by the famous Lt. General Dan Graham, who had a long Cold War resume.
He was deputy director of the CIA under William Colby and later director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. When he retired from his 30-year military career, one of his big projects was pushing for the development of nuclear missile defense technology. It was named High Frontiers, and Graham was part of Ronald Reagan’s kitchen cabinet, asked to develop space-based kinetic energy weapons.
“As you know, Dan, you and I were talking about missile defense before you set up High Frontier in September of ’81… You and a small group of dedicated, determined people helped us move the SDI concept over all the roadblocks put up by people of less vision and belief in American capacity. God bless you!” — President Ronald Reagan, March 1993
As with all new big programs, one has to go to Congress for funding, and with a project of this scale, a major scientific research presentation had to be put together, and there was the age-old issue of how to raise the seed money. My long time friend and mentor, Jeff Davis of Atlanta was in DC at the time, when Graham went to him for advice about raising the funds.
Jeff Davis was an old Jaycee “crew member”, the alumni association of all the past state, national and international officers, and a who’s who of successful Americans, from Supreme Court judges, to business, science, the military and even presidents like Richard Nixon. The Jaycee crew had its own annual convention, and General Graham knew that Jeff was well known there. The crew was the Cadillac of networking.
When Graham told Jeff he needed a million-dollar budget to do the proposal, Jeff had an instant answer — to throw an invitation luncheon with tables at $100,000 each. He carried through on putting this together, raised the million dollars and this launched High Frontiers, which was a private effort. He also put another feather in is cap as the “can do” guy to go for difficult challenges.
Kinetic energy weapons did not work out, but SDI certainly is still with us, especially after Bush (43) withdrew from the nuke treaties. The old time cold warriors are still pushing for their nuclear defense shield and reversing the disarmament efforts accomplished subsequent to the end of the Cold War.
Many feel High Frontiers to now be a booster club for the Defense Industry, which has plenty of money and access to Congress to promote any defense initiative it wants, while High Frontiers continues to operate from a 501(c)3, as a grass-roots PR operation.
VT considers this somewhat comical with all we have learned about the technologies that have been suppressed for decades if they were a financial threat to an established monopoly or trade group with the right political juice. Whether something is really needed for the national defense, or whether its purpose is to defend high defense expenditures has to be watched very carefully.
Frankly, I would have all these people testifying before Congress on the need for these big “new technology” defense programs with a long history of huge cost overruns to take lie detector tests after their testimony. I suspect it would substantially reduce the number of experts willing to testify… Jim W. Dean ]
The Lawrence Livermore program to research nuclear-pumped x-ray laser systems accelerated after President Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech to introduce the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983. Teller* thought such a laser system would provide a shield for the United States against Soviet missiles. He championed the x-ray laser effort and numerous other R&D activities, including guided antimissile missiles called Brilliant Pebbles.
Livermore’s Novette, the precursor of the Nova laser, was used for the first laboratory demonstration of an x-ray laser in 1984. In the early 1980s, researchers were exploring how to produce x-ray laser beams initiated by nuclear explosives at the Nevada Test Site. At the same time, success was achieved creating a soft-x-ray (about 200 angstroms) laser in a laboratory setting using the Novette laser, which was a test bed for the design of Nova. Nova became operational in December 1984.
One of the weapons that had been considered under President Reagan’s SDI program was a nuclear powered X-ray laser. It would have been powered by a small nuclear explosion that produced a pulse of intense X-rays. Therefore, the weapon could not be placed in orbit, installed on a celestial body, or station in space under the Outer Space Treaty.
Even if the United States could use such a weapon without it being orbited, installed, or stationed in space, and thus not subject to the literal Article IV prohibitions, the United States still would have to show the world community that the spirit of the Outer Space Treaty was not violated.
In its 1984 directed energy plan, SDIO planned to pursue the development of nuclear directed energy to provide a base of knowledge that would permit the United States to better judge potential Soviet capabilities and to provide the basis for a ground-based or pop-up nuclear directed energy capability should it be needed at some point for the strategic defense system follow-on phases.
SDIO’S contributions included theoretical computational research along with contributions for diagnostic packages for Department of Energy underground nuclear tests and related laboratory experiments. SDIO and the Department of Energy have conducted a cooperative program that has included mission analyses as well as exploring system engineering concerns.
Based on their understanding of the physics of an X-ray laser, LLNL scientists developed computer models, which were used with other means to predict the results of underground tests. If the results of an underground test agreed with the predictions, LLNL scientists concluded that they generally understood the physics of how the aspect being measured worked. If there were significant differences, this meant that the physics were not well understood. In general, quantitative means that the results were “close” to the predictions, and qualitative means the results were “not as close.”
The X-ray laser is important to the SD1 program because the final SD1 design could depend upon whether the x-ray laser is feasible. If the Soviets could build an X-ray laser, then the survivability of American space assets could be questioned. Therefore, the United States would have to design its ballistic missile defense system to either survive or counter a Soviet X-ray laser attack. X-ray lasers have several potential military applications including counterdefense, booster kill, post-boost vehicle kill, reentry vehicle kill and discrimination of reentry vehicle decoys. The technology requirements for each mission are different.
LLNL official channels, which included Mr. Roy Woodruff, former LLNL Associate Director for Defense Systems, made statements about the status and potential of the X-ray laser, which were similar to most of the statements identified by Mr. Woodruff as being “overly optimistic and technically incorrect.”
The initial LLNL X-ray laser design concept was referred to as Excalibur and had an established brightness (power intensity) goal. Theoretical calculations on a different idea evolved into the Super-Excalibur concept in early to mid-1984, which had a brightness goal significantly higher than Excalibur. Brightness is the amount of power that can be delivered (per unit solid angle) by a directed-energy weapon. Brightness of the laser beam can be measured either at the laser device (source) or at the target, where the brightness would be less than at the source due to the source-target separation.
The Super-Excalibur concept “seems likely to make X-ray lasers a really telling strategic defense technology. For instance, a single X-ray laser module the size of an executive desk which applied this technology could potentially shoot down the entire Soviet land-based missile force, if it were to be launched into the module’s field of view.” (letter to Nitze from Teller) According to LLNL Director, Dr. Roger Batzel, there was nothing in Dr. Edward Teller’s letters that violated any laws of physics. In addition, Dr. Teller identified the Super-Excalibur concept as “in principle,” and the letters contained many qualifiers.
Although Super-Excalibur was conceptually much simpler, the physics may prove to be more difficult. According to Mr. Woodruff, the statement concerning the number of independently aimable beams was an example of Dr. Lowell Wood “selling Super-Excalibur.” He also felt that Dr. Wood’s use of artist’s drawings depicting possible x-ray laser usage implied an unwarranted reliability to something that did not exist other than as a theoretical calculation.
There are four properties of the x-ray laser that determine its performance: (a) the total power in the laser beam; (b) the color of the laser light; (c) the size or spreading (diverqence) of the laser beam; and (d) when the laser beam turns on and how lonq it lasts. The measurement of these properties is a difficult task because of the nuclear environment, and the hiqh intensity, short timescale of the 1asing nq process.
There was no “design flaw” in these experimentaal measurements. The hiqh intensity laser pulse interaccts stronqly with the measuring device during the time of observation. A scientific question was how accurately DOE could make the measurements and, thus, whether the quoted aboslute power was correct.
- 1978 Diablo Hawk–failed test of x-ray laser
- November 1980 Dauphin-test including Hagelstein’s design
- March 1983 Cabra x-ray laser test-failure because data garbled
- December 1983 Romano test-length of rods vs. gain showed x-ray lasing
- August 1984 Correo Test by Los Alamos-false brightness from interaction of sensors with bomb
- March 23, 1985 Cottage test-one sensor modified to look at brightness problem-Teller hailed as success
- December 1985 Goldstone test in spite of bent canister showed brightness less than expected by factor 10
- September 1986 Labquark – focusing seemed to work
* Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb. The use of x-rays to power lasers grew out of the research he lead into the Hohlraum effect which lead to the two-stage hydrogen bomb.