Additional Italian aircraft carrier could become a floating space base


Italy is on the verge of having an additional aircraft carrier. Never one to waste a useful old ship, the Italian military is considering modifying the ship to function as a floating launch pad for space rockets.

It wouldn’t be the first time Italy has paired old ships with new rockets.

The Italian Navy has commissioned the aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1985. She is the older of the two flattops in the fleet. Most recent Cavour commissioned in 2008.

The 800 feet long Garibaldi Embeds Harrier jets and jump helicopters. She fought in Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Libya in 2011.

A new carrier, Trieste, is under construction and could enter service as early as next year. While Italy aims to keep two flattops in service, Triestethe arrival of relieves Garibaldi. The fleet could take the old carrier out of service … or find it another role.

A second career is possible, according to the official navy magazine. Officials plan to adapt the ship to launch the rockets that put military satellites into orbit.

It is not a crazy idea. Ideally, you launch a rocket from the equator in order to make the most of the Earth’s rotation. Launching in the direction of rotation adds the speed of the planet to the rocket’s own speed.

This makes the equatorial territory extremely valuable for space launches. It is not without reason that the European Space Agency has a spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana.

Using a ship as a launch pad – something a number of countries and companies are already doing – ensures access to the most advantageous launch positions. Sail to the equator and launch as soon as the weather permits.

“The hypothesis considered to use Garibaldi as a launch pad has considerable strategic value for the country, “the navy magazine explained,” as this would allow Italy to have a capacity for autonomous access to space, or d ” be able to decide when to put satellite resources into orbit regardless of the priorities set by the European Union – or without having to wait for the window of allocation (and sharing) of the only currently usable launch base , namely the French base of Kourou.

There is history here. In 1962, the Italian Navy modified a then 25-year-old cruiser – also named by coincidence Garibaldi– with four launch tubes for American Polaris ballistic missiles. The idea was for the cruiser to become a nuclear strike ship.

“The launch well tests were carried out, which were followed, until August 1962, by test launches, both when the ship was stationary and at sea,” notes the magazine.

The United States ultimately refused to sell Polaris to Italy – and in 1975 Rome ended its nuclear weapons program. Today Italy hosts US atomic bombs and assigns Air Force fighters to transport them, but it does not have its own nuclear weapons.

The old cruiser experience is not a perfect analog to the current proposal. But there isn’t much of a difference between a space launcher and an ICBM. Indeed, two of the European Space Agency’s main rockets – the Scout and the Vega – borrow technology from the Italian Alfa rocket, which Rome developed as an alternative to Polaris.

It is not known how much it would cost to convert Garibaldi in a space launch platform. It might be cheaper and easier to acquire a commercial style vessel for the same purpose.

But the fact that the Navy is even talking about the idea is indicative of Rome’s space priorities. Satellites and rockets are getting smaller and cheaper, giving the military the ability to launch more spacecraft more frequently for more specialized missions.

Access to the best launch sites is therefore becoming increasingly important – whether that site is a tropical island … or a former aircraft carrier.

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