Thanks to a recent FOIA request, details and engineering drawings have been released for a Cold War era super weapon designed by General Electric for the US government. Called “Have Sting”, the device consisted of an orbital weapons platform, a 100kw nuclear reactor, a 90MW turbogenerator, and the mother of all Rail Guns.
Shooting a metal slug roughly the size of a beer can at 35,000 mph, Have Sting could have vaporized a Communist Nuclear Warhead in flight long before it reached its target. Pretty awesome stuff right?
Unfortunately Have Sting was never meant to be. For starters nobody has yet to figure out how to build a Rail Gun that can hold up to multiple firings without having to replace the rails in the barrel after every couple of shots. This thing was designed in the eighties, and in 2015 we still haven’t really solved that problem.
Secondly you have the issue of construction. Have Sting would have been roughly the size of the International Space Station. Its taken us decades to put together the ISS, and it probably couldn’t have occurred without all the international cooperation between various space agencies. Trying to hide both the funding and construction of such a thing in the 80’s from the Soviets would have been impossible.
And finally you have the issue of refueling the weapon in space. Remember that 90MW turbogenerator I mentioned earlier? It would have been used to charge the rail gun under active and continuous firing, something the nuclear reactor couldn’t handle. According to the information available, the turbogenerator would have used liquid hydrogen and oxygen as fuel. Once it runs out, you have to fly more up, and there would have been no realistic way of accomplishing that without each resupply flight being shot down long before it reached Have Sting.
So as awesome as the idea was, it just wasn’t feasible in any way.
This is not America’s Death Star…
Many an author has decided to take advantage of the hype surrounding the recent release of the 7th Star Wars movie by calling Have Sting “America’s Death Star”, but honestly this comparison is woefully inadequate. The Death Star was a weapon of pure terror, meant to strike fear into the hearts of the empires subjects. You use it once, and then when everyone is adequately cowering in a puddle of their collective urine you call in your massive fleet of Star Destroyers to maintain the terror.
Have Sting was a purely defensive weapon. Yes you could direct it at anything you so chose but ultimately it didn’t have the combat longevity to be used for anything other than shooting down nukes. If anything, the Soviets would have gotten pissed off at its mere existence and focused their efforts into knocking Have Sting out of the sky. That wouldn’t have been a terribly difficult task either. All one would need to do was send up enough missiles that Have Sting wouldn’t have been able to shoot them all down before they reached it.
But if keeping your subjects and enemies in line via unspeakable terror is your sort of thing, you could go about it with some much more clever and evil methods. But that’s a topic for a future post.