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I'm referring in particular to How to determine the delta V required in order for the satellite at pt. A to hit the earth at pt. B?

Those who could give a fairly competent answer to this question could result in the answerer landing in jail, depending on country of origin. I might be able to give a competent answer. I will not do so as I would rather spend my remaining years unencumbered by free but highly substandard government assisted living.

I understand the difficultly of rejecting such questions because many aspects of peaceful space exploration have a dual militaristic use. The technologies needed to enable a spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station are the very same technologies needed to enable a hunter-killer satellite disable an enemy satellite. The technologies needed to enable a dying spacecraft to crash into an empty patch of the Pacific Ocean are the starting point of the technologies needed to enable a missile to hit a specific point on the Earth.

But still, this question, from a newbie, is a bit over the top in asking for the dual militaristic use of what should be peaceful space exploration.

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    $\begingroup$ We have already decided in the past that this site includes the military use of space and not only peaceful space exploration: space.meta.stackexchange.com/a/74/58. However, that doesn't mean we couldn't make a certain subset of militaristic questions off topic. Your off topic description would need tweaking though. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Oct 27 '20 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Tweak it then! My proposal was a suggested starting point. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '20 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ I don't feel confident enough in what question space is problematic to attempt to delineate a subset, just thought it was worth mentioning that any answers that agree would need wording that doesn't imply that military questions are off topic. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Oct 27 '20 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Military questions cannot be off-topic per se because the dual use borderline between peaceful and militaristic uses of space is rather fuzzy. That said, asking how to target a specific point on the Earth is so far across that fuzzy border that the border is not fuzzy at all. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '20 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage I edited my proposed wording to make it more specific. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '20 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ It would helpful to separate this meta-post into a question post and an answer post. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Oct 27 '20 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon I specifically linked to a question to which I will not provide an answer. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '20 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen: Sorry, I guess I was not clear. I was not referring to an answer to the linked main-site question; I respect your choice not to do so. What I am suggesting is limiting this meta question above to just the question part, and then creating an answer below that advocates your particular position. Because I see voting on the question more about "is this an important issue" and voting on the answer about "do I support this specific position". $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Oct 27 '20 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen I think you can also link to How to make a model rocket that doesn't spin? as another post that might require some caution (see comments there as well). $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 7 at 23:59
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I will argue that anyone capable of building an ICBM already has the capability to figure out basic orbital mechanics.

Therefore, who will such a question ban actually protect?

To compare it to the exiting off-topic ruling of dangerous amateur experiments, that one protects people who can find a way to injure themselves given a litre of hydrazine, which is very very easy.

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    $\begingroup$ There have been multiple questions that ask for state or industrial secrets. Sometimes the questioner does not know that they are asking for privileged information, but at other times it appears as a deliberate ploy. Fortunately these questions typically go unanswered. The question in question goes above and beyond asking for state / industrial secrets. It is asking how to target a point on the Earth. That is not just bad, it is beyond bad. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '20 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, it took decades of research to advance submarine launched ballistic missiles from the killing of Russian women and children stage, where tens of kilometers error was good enough, to the killing Russian train stations and industrial sites stage, where a kilometer is barely good enough, to the killing Russian hardened missile silos stage, which requires accuracy in the tens of meters or so. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '20 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Privileged information holders should be educated in what they can and cannot discuss, and most privileged information owners have a process for handling spills that does not involve this community. Getting into closing questions for asking for privileged information is murky territory, because the very act of indicating that something might be in this territory can be problematic, and it would be impossible for the community to always know what questions belong to such categories because often that designation itself is privileged. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Oct 28 '20 at 2:15
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I'm against preemptive block-banning any question on the military use of space. We'd have to remove all questions about Space Force or military satellite launches, and I can't imagine a tighter boundary that can be easily drawn either.

There's plenty of publicly available information on space-based weapons and questions about that should remain on-topic.

I understand the concern though. How I see it is that SE already has the accumulation of so much problem-solving that we should first look to existing tools before making any modifications (If it's not broke, don't fix it).

A question like the one linked can be seen as overly broad; an answer that really described how to go from orbit to a train station would be a book chapter or two, so a question asking for that level of detail would be off-topic as overly broad.

A question asking for how the last sixty seconds of a carrier-killer's trajectory could best correct for evasive maneuvers by the carrier is sort-of self-flagging and the first few users to read it would probably immediately flag and down vote it and comment that it's inappropriate.

So if any changes to the scope of the site need to be proposed, they first need a clear rationalization why not having them puts the site at risk, and second needs several use cases1 demonstrating actual contexts where they would have come in handy.

Real world examples of use-case lists1:

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We encountered this very question on Security Stack Exchange. Almost every use of tools or techniques a company could use to discover weaknesses in their environment that need fixing are exactly the same tools an attacker would use, so many questions posted could be for good or evil. And in many countries, assisting attackers can come under misuse of computer acts... leading to jail time.

We discussed in meta, we discussed in mod rooms, we even discussed with CMs but our final decision was that because attackers can definitely find out the answers anyway, either by trial and error themselves, or by attacking targets, and because attackers often have the better tools, discussing questions on Stack Exchange in terms of the positive benefit to defenders is possible in almost every case.

In fact the ones we would delete were all deletable under the quality rules (eg "Give me the codes", or "break my girlfriend's password for me" etc)

So here, my take is that if it can describe a perfectly valid, "good" use of rocket science then treat it as such and answer accordingly.

In any case, the number of questions currently on the site that could be construed as malicious intent is exceedingly low right now, so I don't see this as a major problem. If it becomes so in future, revisiting this decision may be useful, but right now, if someone asks about navigation systems for their homegrown attempt to reach orbit, the overwhelming likelihood is that they are good. The bad guys typically buy (or otherwise acquire) missiles from military.

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I agree with uhoh's answer that each question should be considered on its own merits, rather than outright banning a category. However, I think there are a few points worth adding.


For a question under consideration, imagine taking all of the space exploration related aspects out of the question. Then ask yourself, "is this still a question that can be answered?"

  • If the modified question cannot be answered, that means that space exploration is integral to the question, and therefore the question is likely on-topic.

  • If the modified question still can be answered, that means that space exploration is not important to the question (perhaps its use is being used as an excuse to ask it here). In that case, the question should be considered off-topic.


David Hammen also makes a good point about answering questions on classified/secret information. Putting secrets on our site is only going to cause legal problems for StackExchange. Any military questions should be answerable by publicly-available or authorized sources.

Again, this is something that should be considered for each individual question, rather than outright banning an entire category of questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ For the second portion of your answer, see my comment to David above: space.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1643/…. There is a process for these things, and that is not our community's responsibility (even if it may be the responsibility for some of our members--that is on them to abide by). $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Oct 28 '20 at 2:19
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    $\begingroup$ That said, if information is provided without a source, a lot of the time it should be flagged anyway. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Oct 28 '20 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ Keeping in mind that some users are the source (e.g. Mark Adler), though like any source they can be questioned and evaluated against other sources. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Oct 28 '20 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ The math described in such textbooks by Vallado, and Bate, Mueller and White should be classified by the reasoning given here. All of the math in those texts are exactly the same as used for SE as for MIRVed ICBMs, and even just boring stuff in LEO. $\endgroup$
    – Chris Ison
    Jan 26 at 1:37
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Proposal: Add to the list of off-topic questions "Questions that obviously cross the border from peaceful space exploration to militaristic uses of space are off-topic. In particular, do not ask how to target a specific point on the surface of the Earth from space."

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    $\begingroup$ I'm new here but I've worked in aerospace for a few decades. I would like to point out that the astrodynamics used for ICBM targeting is the same as that for planting certain classes of probes on the surfaces of moons and planets. While they may or may not make hard landings, the trajectory insertion mathematics and computational methods are the same. It is rather naive, IMHO, to state that one kind of astrodynamics is for war and another is not. Indeed, on a larger scale, such targeting methods can also be used for interplanetary trajectory interceptions, not just surface intercepts. $\endgroup$
    – Chris Ison
    Jan 26 at 1:32

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