Alternative History

Orbital weapons are militarized satellites, capable of attacking targets on land or sea or in air or space. Perhaps the most formidable development in modern warfare, they push the advantage of high ground to the extreme and almost totaly exclude the possibility of counter-attack. Modern orbital emplacements shifted the global balance of power heavily in favor of the Roman Imperium, who has the sole right as a state to launch weapons satellites, allowing their armed forces to easily out compete the Mongols, Maya or Japanese. No present military has the means to defend against such weaponry.

International law of the Alliance of Earth from 1966 permits only itself and Rome to militarize outer space. Neither failed to take advantage of this. They have run the gamut of possible ways to defend their earthly possessions by celestial means, from satellites outfitted with kinetic projectiles, missiles, lasers and atomics, and with more advanced plasma-based designs in the works.

The first weapons satellites were Roman Cherubim missile platforms. Originally launched in February of 1949, they immediately proved their lethality against African dissidents in the Swahili Crisis. Their success was the main argument for continued the growth of space as a final frontier of militarization.

Cherubim Satellites[]

Cherubim missile

AM-2 ballistic missile

Warfare entered the space age on 19 February 1949. Rome was competing with the Maya Conglomerate in a race to occupy space with satellites, ships and astronauts of all colors. But it was Rome that took the leap and put the first military installation in orbit. The above date marks the activation of the first Cherubim-class military satellite, outfitted with an arsenal of one hundred AM-2 orbital ballistics (see 'image) and over four hundred MRL-2 anti-tank missiles.

The housing of these projectiles is an elliptical station with five curved indentations around its 'nose'. The four main holes circle a fifth at equidistant positions. Each one has two silos from which the AM-2 rockets are fired. The station's tip is the fifth indent, where the anti-vehicle missiles are released.

The missiles have an exceptionally high yield:fuel ratio since their acceleration comes from falling towards the ground. Propulsion mostly redirects and readjusts missile trajectory. Guidance systems in the noses of the missiles lock-on targets and give accuracy on an area the size of a human head.

The AM-series of rockets employ 40-ton yield thermobaric charges in their body. The explosive force is enough to destroy buildings the size of an insula or to flatten an armored vehicle. The MRL-2's were swapped in modern Cherubim for CI-122 bunker busters. While the former could only take out tanks and transports, the latter are potent enough to sink battleships and rout the enemy from bunkered emplacements like trenches or pill boxes. Five missile racks flank the back of the upgraded Cherubim, arming it with 300 MRL-30 anti-tank rounds. Missiles of the MRL-series use shaped-charges that penetrate armor with a high-velocity jet of plasma. Electric reactive armor, exclusively on Roman and Maya tanks, are the only protection against such explosives.

Custos Angeles transport ammunition from supply ships or, since the 70's, from space elevators to maintain constant fire in times of continuous operation. One Cherubim can bring an army to its knees, and some have done so. Nevertheless, standard countermeasures against guided-missiles can defend against their armament and events have played out where these emplacements alone are insufficient to maintain the interests of Rome.

Originally, forty Cherubim were launched, over several years, and all forty remain in orbit. The last upgrade to their systems was in the late 70's and reassessment of functionality is not scheduled until 2015. However, they are only one of Rome's many defenses on the celestial sphere.

Potestas Kinetic-Artillery Satellites[]

The 1960's were a tumultuous period. War seemed to be always on the horizon. Against this sentiment, Emperor Lucius and his Bureau proposed an innovation for warfare that was not thought possible. The Caesar mused that at such a height as space, one could drop drop stones on the enemy to kill them, and ambitious researchers under his employ sought to make it a reality. From this idea, the Potestas artillery stationwas born, named for the unfailingly loyal angelic soldiers of God

Kinetic penetrator round

Still from a high-speed camera taken seconds before impact

The advantage of kinetic bolts over rockets was twofold. Primarily they were favored for ergonomic reasons: rods delivered great results for low cost and could be reliably stored in space. Secondly, they were capable of underground penetrative power that no missile could content with. Furthermore, design limitations on the Cherubim's rockets prevented a point-to-point shot and the missiles had to actually curve AWAY from the ground before impacting. This was done to improve their accuracy, at the cost of adding fuel.

Potestas electromagnetically accelerate 3,000 kg perditrium-ferrum rods (uranium-iron) toward their target. The intervening 410 km or so between these two points gives the projectile a velocity near 2.8 km/s. At such speeds each shot has over 20 GJ of kinetic energy, equivalent to a 4 ton nitrogenous explosive. This energy goes completely into the impact itself, ensuring the tremendous destructive potential of even a single rod.

These stations are renowned for great combat flexibility. Not only can no armored vehicle withstand a direct hit from a rod but large battleships and deep, underground bunkers are equally vulnerable. Furthermore, the low cost and high-availabity of their ammunition (there are 1500 rods per satellite) make them practical for attacks on tight infantry formations as well.

The program started in the early 60's but the first artillery station was not launched until August 1965. By 1969 all forty satellites were in orbit and only one has ever been shot down. This extraordinary exception to the security of outer space happened in 1984 when a meteoroid struck a vital power relay, forcing atmospheric re-entry. The satellite was replaced within a year. Despite consistent maintenance, the Potestas network is scheduled for reassessment in 2010 (10 years).

Giant Space Gun[]

The Magnum Ballistarium Aetherium (Eng: Giant Space Gun), completed in 1970, was the only joint international space program in history. In itself, this is significant, but the MBA is also the only orbital station armed with nuclear weapons. This reflects its construction as a counter-artillery piece to the Danes' Mjollnir nuclear artillery station in Groenland. Orbiting 370 km high, the Ballistarium fires 32 megaton nuclear warheads over a range spanning the entire globe by means of a finely tuned electromagnetic mass driver. Computers plot the trajectory of each shell and account factors such as atmospheric drag, altitude of target and even the planetary rotation. This guarantees the success of every shot.

The station has a considerable arsenal, 500 nuclear warheads, or more than Japan itself. It is scary to think that the MBA can launch its entire stock under an hour. In more concrete terms, the Ballistarium can cripple any modern state. However, such an event would have apocalyptic effects on the rest of the planet. Against this sort of misuse, the installation is jointly controlled by Maya, Japanese and Roman mediators. For even one warhead to be launched, mechanical keys of all three states must be turned, along with separate codes and fingerprint verifications from one authorized individual from each country. The program is impossible to hack. Any attempt permanently shuts down the system. A reboot happens once those same key, code and print identifications are input directly into the satellite.

In 1983, an unknown faction tried to board the Ballisterium satellite. The moment the suspicious craft was detected, the entire Alliance went into military alert and Rome sent a nearby Patronus Angelis satellite to destroy the insurgents. The incursion made the Alliance weary of further boarding attempts and 1984 saw a permanent laser defense system built onto the station for future borders or anti-satellite missiles.

Nevertheless, the presence of this apocalyptic weapon frightens some people. The Romans, for that matter, are proud as the suppliers and builders of the MBA but Maya and Japanese officials fear its potential for misuse.

Seraphim Laser Satellites[]

Despite the successes of previous orbital weaponry, the Senate and Emperor wanted more potent orbital defences for the City of the Caesars, especially in light of the threat of nuclear ICBMs. Point-defense lasers were the proven anti-missile system from the Second World War and therefore were the next logical step in the progression of orbital weapons. In 1971, the technology-savvy Emperor Raphael proposed a laser satellite to a team of scientists and engineers. His belief was that, like point-defense lasers, such satellites could wipe out attacking aircraft, missiles and shells. Furthermore, they would have the power to kill infantry and destroy armored vehicles and ships more easily than existing weapons.

Blueprints for laser satellites were completed in 1975, allowing the first construction and launch of the first Seraphim in May of that year. Test firing on an old communication satellite proved its worthiness of its namesake, the mighty angels said to burn with blindingly radiant love for God.

The satellite's weapon is a 20 MW composite laser made by focusing two hundred tributary lasers with electromagnetic lensing into a single beam. 360 km from source to target gives time for the beam to spread out to nearly half-a-meter in diameter at ground level.

Each 100 kW tributary laser has three pre-programmed firing modes. The first 100 kW level gives continuous fire for 4 minutes before the lasing material requires a 20 second cool down period. Since there is no medium in outer space to vent excess heat, refrigeration pulls it away from the laser source and concentrates it in one spot on the satellite. Once stored, the heat is removed by infrared photoelectric cells for recharging the installation's nuclear batteries. This output is sufficient for anti-vehicular combat. It is frightening for the enemy soldier to watch his mobile armor turn red and burst into flames from the influence of an invisible force.

The second 10 kW mode can run continuously with no risk of overheating. Highly effective at dispatching infantry, missiles and light aircraft it can only (albeit literally) soften-up armored targets. The last firing mode is only used in extreme circumstances, like to penetrate heavy bunkers or demolish large targets, e.g. carriers, bridges, or buildings. Total output of a Seraphim in this mode is 4 GW, or 20 MW per tributary beam. Maximum safety period at this power is 10 seconds before necessitating minutes of cool down. The lasing materials are severely strained and there is moderate risk of spontaneous malfunctions that cause permanent damage to the satellite. However, the pay-off is an orbital attack against which no physical defense exists.

Several Seraphim have been damaged by excessive operation of this kind, such is the hubris of Roman generals, but they were repaired. Therefore, all 160 Seraphim are in adequate condition for present military needs. Nevertheless, they are scheduled for reassessment in the 2023.


Measures are under development by most countries to defend against military satellites. These are of offensive and defensive varieties. The former has led to the first instances of space warfare, or conflict outside the boundaries of the Earth's atmosphere.

Anti-satellite missiles reach altitudes of orbiting satellites for deployment of conventional or nuclear explosives. The latter has the advantage of disabling lesser satellites in an electromagnetic pulse, which all nukes create. However, developed countries frown on this type of assault since it knocks out civilian and military satellites alike and can be crippling to crucial national infrastructure. These missiles can be launched from boats or silos but most countries only have the technology to achieve orbit when deploying from aircraft.

Rome alone can attack a satellite from a position outside the atmosphere, thus taking the higher ground as it were. However, unbeknownst to the world, Japan has been stockpiling nuclear missiles on the Moon since the close of the Third World War. The aggregate of their armament exceeds 700 megatons in fusion weapons, all of which were built on site. These are a safety measure more than anything, ensuring the military independence of Japan in light of Rome's total domination of the final frontier.

Defensive measures against weapons satellites were deployed by the platonic socialist armies during the last world war. This included point-defense lasers for disabling incoming missiles.