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Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Geronimo!
May 10th 2019 at 1:00:58 PM

And figure out how to get it to deploy at the right time, when it's not connected to the deployment mechanism.

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DeMarquis Who Am I? from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
May 10th 2019 at 8:56:30 PM

In all seriousness, I'm imaging the plot to a cyber-thriller here. What interesting things could a villain do if they could attach a small drone to a rocket on an orbital trajectory?

I do not compromise—I synthesize.
Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Geronimo!
May 10th 2019 at 10:14:05 PM

Practically speaking, any drone attached to the outside of an orbital rocket would get seriously damaged by the aerodynamic forces during ascent. (Imagine a bug being blown off the windshield of a car going 1000 miles per hour.) If it managed to make it past that, it would depend on where exactly it attached itself.

  • On the first/booster stage, the drone would fall back to Earth after stage separation and would not make it to space today.
  • On the second stage, the drone would make it to space, but would be left behind when the payload deployed.
  • On the payload fairing, the drone would get thrown off during ascent and would not make it to space today.
  • On the crew or cargo capsule (for the Commercial Resupply Service or a hypothetical crewed mission), it could ride all the way to wherever the capsule is going.

If the drone could access the service ports on the rocket, such as where ground electronics are connected, it might be able to hack the rocket's computers, assuming it had the appropriate technology. It might be able to alter the trajectory of the rocket, causing it to fail to reach orbit, enter a different orbit, or descend to any location within its flight profile. It could potentially destroy the rocket as well, although I could think of many easier ways to accomplish that.

Note that, if you have the ability to crack the rocket's onboard computers, you could probably manage it remotely, without a physical device. If you need a physical device, you'd do better to attach it before launch. Depending on a drone is one of those "not a great plan" moments, if for no other reason than that the risk of detection (and consequent abort) is far too high. The moment anyone on the ground sees something like that, they'll scrub the launch instantly.

If the drone could get inside the payload fairing, it could connect to and do something nefarious with the payload, whatever that is. It would need Pym Particles to do that, though: those parts are designed to be airtight and seamless.

Edited by Fighteer on May 10th 2019 at 1:32:30 PM

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petersohn Forget the horror here from Earth, Solar System Relationship Status: Hiding
Forget the horror here
May 10th 2019 at 10:47:09 PM

Or you could get it inside the fairing during assembly. Oh, and hacking the rocket would make it into a potential ICBM. And that would make a good plot for a James Bond movie.

Edited by petersohn on May 10th 2019 at 7:48:02 PM

"My battery is low and it's getting dark."—Opportunity
Aetol from France
May 11th 2019 at 4:19:09 PM

That's assuming the rocket doesn't self-destruct the moment it deviates significantly from its planned course, which sounds like a reasonable safety measure to me.

Worldbuilding is fun, writing is a chore
DeMarquis Who Am I? from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
May 11th 2019 at 5:41:18 PM

Seems to me that if you can get the drone close enough to attach to the rocket, you could attach it anywhere you wanted. The main reason I can think of to attach it to the payload module is to hijack the payload. And the primary reason for doing that, presuming a nonstate actor, is to demand a ransom. "Deposit one hundred million Euros into the following account, or we shall destroy, oh, say, Paris."

I do not compromise—I synthesize.
Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Geronimo!
May 11th 2019 at 9:33:05 PM

Well, they wouldn't get much out of that but some laughs (and a bill for the value of the payload and rocket). Just about every man-made satellite that we have is too small to reach the ground if it catastrophically deorbits. It would disintegrate on reentry, threatening Paris about as much as a backyard fireworks show. Nor is an orbital rocket a serious threat to damage civilian targets unless it's armed with a warhead.

If you intervene before it reaches orbit, it will simply fall wherever its trajectory takes it, most likely breaking up and burning because orbital payloads are not typically designed to survive reentry. You also can't "ransom" anyone during ascent, because the difference between a failed launch and a successful one can be measured in seconds. If a rocket's engines cut off mid flight, there isn't enough time or enough fuel to correct the problem.

The best place to intervene might be when a payload has entered its initial parking orbit, but before it performs a burn to reach its final orbit. At that point, it'll stay up there forever (or for long enough to get whatever you want, at least) but won't be useful for its intended job. Of course, there is usually a window of time within which it can successfully reach its intended orbit due to the lifespan of the second stage that gets it there, plus its own onboard power reserves. When those expire, it's dead and cannot be recovered.

To recap, if you're going to hijack an orbital rocket as a supervillain and hold it for ransom, the only reasonable time to do so is after it reaches orbit but before it deploys its payload. Your threat is limited to the failure of the mission; there is not likely to be any serious risk on the ground.

Edited to add: I suppose you could take over the rocket's guidance and steer it to hit a city or something after it takes off, but to ransom it in the process is kind of ludicrous. Your window to accomplish that is less than ten minutes, far too quickly for any ransom to be paid.

Edited by Fighteer on May 11th 2019 at 1:04:52 PM

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petersohn Forget the horror here from Earth, Solar System Relationship Status: Hiding
Forget the horror here
May 12th 2019 at 5:26:02 AM

Supervillains are rarely out for ransom. They usually want something grander than that. By the way, what about threatening to hit the ISS?

"My battery is low and it's getting dark."—Opportunity
Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Geronimo!
May 12th 2019 at 7:48:52 AM

Hitting the ISS is a threat, yes, but the rocket would have to be capable of reaching it, and that's not a given. It depends on the launch site, payload, and the timing of the launch. ISS resupply missions have what is called an instantaneous launch window, meaning that they have to take off literally on the exact second they're intended to or they don't have the right amount of delta-V to match orbits.

More broadly, getting to orbit is easy (relatively speaking). Getting to orbit and intercepting a specific other object in orbit is extremely challenging and requires precise timing. Your best bet would be to go after a launch that is already destined for the ISS and mess with the second stage trajectory so that it goes into a collision orbit instead of a rendezvous orbit.

Thus, hijacking an orbital rocket and ransoming the ISS with it is at least plausible from a scientific perspective, even if it would require an awful lot of assumptions to work in real life. If you had the capability, you'd do better to build (or steal) a dedicated anti-satellite rocket, since it doesn't need all the bells and whistles of a vehicle meant to reach orbit.

Edited by Fighteer on May 12th 2019 at 11:00:11 AM

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Silasw A procrastination in of itself from a handcart heading to Hell Relationship Status: And they all lived happily ever after <3
A procrastination in of itself
May 12th 2019 at 8:01:25 AM

Also while a highjacked thing in a semi-stable orbit probably wouldn’t have the fuel and control needed to hit the ISS, no government is going to want to bet the ISS on that probably.

Though the most likely outcome is that the ISS gets evacuated while the ‘ransom’ is delivered, the ransom doesn’t get paid and somebody gets a fun mix of Russian, British, French and American submarine launched balsamic missiles dropped on their head.

"And the Bunny nails it!" ~ Gabrael "If the UN can get through a day without everyone strangling everyone else so can we." ~ Cyran
Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Geronimo!
May 12th 2019 at 8:05:49 AM

Now I really want to see a "balsamic" missile.

You're generally correct: even the slightest plausible threat of hitting the ISS would get the international community quite agitated and might earn a nice ransom payment, assuming you stayed alive to spend it afterwards once the ranch and honey mustard missiles finished raining down.

Edited by Fighteer on May 12th 2019 at 11:06:27 AM

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May 12th 2019 at 9:13:37 AM

The ISS also has a maneuvering system; it wouldn't be going anywhere fast but is probably enough to throw off intercept with the hour or so of warning you'd need for a ransom demand to be viable.

Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Geronimo!
May 12th 2019 at 10:05:33 AM

I don't know; I'd imagine that the rocket would have more delta-V available over a short interval than the ISS, which is many times more massive. I'm not sure I'd want to bet the station on its ability to dodge.

There are also all sorts of complications that aren't easy to portray in a film or TV show. For example, the SpaceX Falcon 9 engines use igniter fluid to start a burn, which is a finite resource. They can only fire so many times regardless of how much fuel the rocket carries. If it has to make multiple course changes to track a target, it may simply not work. Other kind of rockets, with different propulsion systems, may work better or worse in this regard.

This goes both ways, though. If the ransom is paid, but the rocket is unable to change course because it can't restart its engines...

[down] I think that the overall point being made is that you'd do much better with a dedicated antisatellite system than with a hijacked rocket that was not intended for such use.

Edited by Fighteer on May 12th 2019 at 1:19:43 PM

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petersohn Forget the horror here from Earth, Solar System Relationship Status: Hiding
Forget the horror here
May 12th 2019 at 10:17:35 AM

Rendezvous with the ISS is difficult not just because it's hard to find an orbit that meets the ISS, but you also have to synchronize orbits. In layman's terms, a supply ship needs not only to hit the ISS, but arrive there with the same velocity. Depending on the orbit, a hijacked rocket may still not have enough delta-v to hit it, but it requires much less than a proper rendezvous.

Also, several nations (including the USA and India) have so far demonstrated the ability to shoot down satellites. So depending on how much the militaries of said nations are alert, the supervillain might not have the time to carry out their plan to hit the ISS before their satellite gets shot down.

"My battery is low and it's getting dark."—Opportunity
DeMarquis Who Am I? from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
May 12th 2019 at 12:08:49 PM

It may just be a matter of picking the right payload. The heaviest satillite currently in service, the KH-11, weighs about 43,000 lbs.

I do not compromise—I synthesize.
Shinziril Compulsive Researcher from the internet
Compulsive Researcher
May 12th 2019 at 6:30:47 PM

Any attempt to hijack a rocket launch would have to deal with the fact that the Range Safety Officer has a button that lets them blow up the rocket on command and instructions to do so should it deviate from its planned trajectory. Probably you can spoof or override that somehow, but mechanically re-aiming the rocket to hit something won't work without that since it would just be safely blown up midair.

Edited by Shinziril on May 12th 2019 at 8:33:12 AM

Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Geronimo!
May 12th 2019 at 8:37:35 PM

I'm assuming that whatever technology our villain uses to hijack the rocket is also capable of overriding the range safety commands, or it is indeed a completely pointless exercise.

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Resileafs I actually wanted to be Resileaf
I actually wanted to be Resileaf
May 12th 2019 at 9:40:04 PM

Everyone who talked about hijacking a flight to attack the ISS is now on an international watchlist.

Redmess Redmess from Netherlands
Redmess
May 13th 2019 at 4:14:55 AM

If you see a black helicopter passing overhead, you know what's up.

Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Demetrios The World's Cutest Detective from Wheeling, Illinois Relationship Status: Wishing you were here
The World's Cutest Detective
May 13th 2019 at 8:13:31 AM Get me the Distortion World outta here!
Fighteer Geronimo! from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
Geronimo!
May 13th 2019 at 8:23:03 AM

Do these worlds have AAA shooters based around the balmy idea that the Allies won WWII, with everyone deriding their lack of historical realism while appreciating the moral dilemma of a Nazi soldier faced with the task of traveling in time to make sure the Holocaust happens?

Edited by Fighteer on May 13th 2019 at 11:24:12 AM

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DeMarquis Who Am I? from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
May 13th 2019 at 9:05:54 AM

I volunteer to become God-Emperor of Missouri. Because there's a time-line somewhere where someone writes a novel based on that premiss.

I do not compromise—I synthesize.
May 13th 2019 at 9:24:22 AM

I kind of feel like you wouldn't even need 500 levels to get pretty wild. Though I suppose some of that is decided by the imagination vs accuracy of these hypothetical writers.

danime91 Relationship Status: Above such petty unnecessities
May 13th 2019 at 11:19:55 AM

I'm surprised that the characters are still recognizably human at 500 levels in.


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