We tested the US Military’s secret space weapon

We tested the US Military’s secret space weapon

An engineer came up with a plan to drop tungsten telephone poles from space – the idea has been seriously considered on multiple occasions, so we tested it. This video is sponsored by Brilliant. You can get started for free, or the first 200 people to sign up via https://brilliant.org/veritasium get 20% off a yearly subscription.

Massive thanks to Archisand for building such a beautiful sandcastle. https://www.youtube.com/@GregLeBon
Thanks to Inland Empire Film Services and the San Bernardino County Film Office for portions of the video shot in the County of San Bernardino.

Huge thanks to John and Angie Miller for helping us with securing the shooting location and going above and beyond to make this shoot happen – http://highdesertlocations.com/

Massive thanks to Dr David Wright for the interview and providing invaluable guidance during the research for this video.

Here’s a great video about space-based missile defense – https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/space-based-missile-defense-not-good-idea

Massive thanks to Adam Savage for being part of this video

Additional photos from NASA and ESA

USAF. (2003). The US Air Force transformation flight plan.

Preston, R., Johnson, D. J., Edwards, S. J., Miller, M. D., & Shipbaugh, C. (2002). Space weapons earth wars. Rand Corporation.

Wright, D., Grego, L., & Gronlund, L. (2005). The physics of space security. A Reference Manual, Cambridge.

DeBlois, B. M., Garwin, R. L., Kemp, R. S., & Marwell, J. C. (2004). Space weapons: crossing the US Rubicon. International Security, 50-84.

Baucom, D. R. (2017). The Rise and Fall of Brilliant Pebbles 1. In United States Military History 1865 to the Present Day (pp. 329-376). Routledge.

Hitchens, T., & Samson, V. (2004). Space-based interceptors: still not a good idea. Georgetown journal of international affairs, 21-29.

National Research Council. (2012). Making sense of ballistic missile defense: An assessment of concepts and systems for US boost-phase missile defense in comparison to other alternatives. National Academies Press.

Borger, J. (2005). Bush likely to back weapons in space. The Guardian, 19.

Special thanks to: Bernard McGee, James Sanger, Elliot Miller, Brian Busbee, Jerome Barakos M.D., Amadeo Bee, TTST, Balkrishna Heroor, Chris LaClair, John H. Austin Jr., OnlineBookClub.org, Eric Sexton, John Kiehl, Diffbot, Gnare, Dave Kircher, Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Bill Linder, Paul Peijzel, Josh Hibschman, Mac Malkawi, Mike Schneider, John Bauer, Jim Buckmaster, Juan Benet, Sunil Nagaraj, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Stephen Wilcox, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson, Sam Lutfi

Written by Petr Lebedev, Derek Muller, and Emily Zhang
Filmed by Trenton Oliver, Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, Emily Zhang, Raquel Nuno and Eddie Lopez
Animation by Mike Radjabov, Fabio Albertelli and Jonny Hyman
Edited by Trenton Oliver
Slow Motion Camera: Shawn Sanders and Anthony Corrales
Sandcastle Timelapse by Greg LeBon and Archisand
Phantom rental from Panny Hire LA
Helicopter Pilots: Rick Shuster and Cliff Fleming
Helicopter Safety Officer: Ryan Hosking
FPV Drone Pilots: Sammie Saing and Josh Ewalt
Production Assistants: Roman Bacvic and Eddie Lopez
Intern: Katie Barnshaw
Additional video/photos supplied by Pond5 and Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sound
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, and Emily Zhang

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46 Responses

  1. Sonicalex0 says:

    Wish there was a point in the experiment that the goal switch from accuracy to “lets see how big crater get from dropping really high” and proceed to have everyone really far away until it lands.

  2. Joshua Headey says:

    My favourite part is where Adam Savage appears out of nowhere, as if desert explosion tests just summon him 😂

  3. TRDPaul says:

    I think your main problem is you’re hanging it on a loose rope (strap thing) below the helicopter and just letting it swing in the wind, it would be far better off with a less flexible holding device, even pushing it out of the helicopter by hand would change the trajectory less.

    • Sprouting Resilience says:

      Or even a shorter pendulum

    • Tom Griffiths says:

      This is the continuation of Veritasium’s inevitable slide into mass-market, dumbed down content that began as soon as Adam Savage got involved. Too many producers, too much output, falling standards.

    • Tein Meizeshi says:

      A hook with a release would have been enough.

    • Brian West says:

      Or a much longer strap to get it out of the prop wash but I don’t know how long that is. Also, why not drop something lighter to set the targeting offset due to the wind? Presumably you can scale something lighter that will have the about same movement in the wind. Or simply lift more than one weight at a time. Even in Ukraine, they shoot one projectile, correct and then hit the target.

    • Dogbreath says:

      whenever i have seen the military drop stuff out a plane they throw streamers on the first pass when directly over target, calculate wind and what ever then make a second pass with the actual stuff (sar kit, jumpers, etc.)

  4. Carthos says:

    This is like the 3rd video of dropping stuff from a helicopter ive seen recently, AND ALL OF THEM DONT SEEM TO UNDERSTAND OR ACCOUNT FOR THE SWAYING EFFECT AND AIR TURBULENCE THAT’LL THROW OFF THE ACCURACY OF THE DROP!!!! Like seriously, thats the first thing i thought of before seeing any of those videos……why didnt they think of it

    • Chloe Webb says:

      I think its more a matter of how much it costs to offset those issues? But still, a 8 foot tow-strap that looks like it came from someones trunk just wasnt a good call lmao

    • Max says:

      @Tractor Mad Films that’s what i was thinking… I was thinking about a latch mechanism inside a tube on the side so the passenger pressing the button can aim precisely with minimal horizontal momentum as it’s fixed and encased in the tubing +fins so it goes straight down (less horizontal air resistance who might deviate from target)

    • vondahe says:

      Not to mention the difference between this rod going at 200 mph versus an enormous rod travelling at Mach 10. They might as well drop a lollipop on a parking lot.

    • Tractor Mad Films says:

      Half the problem is the length of that damn strap, if it could be mounted solidly to the release mechanism there would be much less sway/none, it’s like they’re not recognising that when it’s swaying and they release it the object already now has horizontal momentum so it will never drop straight down


      @Barnabás Decsi yepp

  5. A1BASE says:

    I’m surprised to see Adam Savage in this. I would have thought he’d have countered a lot of the basic errors of assumption that made this delivery system impossible, simply from the pendulum effect of the drop to the reliance on the accuracy of civilian GPS and the aerodynamic requirements of the projectile.

    This is a seriously complicated problem.

  6. Tripp Profant says:

    I’m convinced Adam Savage just spawns in the desert, like he shows up out of nowhere and so casually too.

  7. Eric Taylor says:

    At what speed does an object gain an impact energy equal to an equal mass of the most powerful explosive?
    In other words, at what speed of impactor does it make sense to replace your explosive warhead with solid matter such as lead or tungsten?

    • B_M says:

      @Cristian Baluta Wikipedia defines explosion as “a rapid expansion in volume associated with an extreme outward release of energy”. High speed projectiles can definitely explode. Search for US Navy rail gun tests.

    • Riley Mosman says:

      I’d assume that a metal rod also has greater penetrative power than a conventional explosive as well, so that might be a tactically relevant consideration.

    • Cristian Baluta says:

      Is there any proof out there that the kinetic energy is explosive? I don’t think you’re gonna see any explosion unless it’s hitting something explosive

    • Douglas Kubler says:

      The explosion will always be less than the fuel energy used to lift the object.

    • Jason Spalding says:

      I suggest you use the Potential Energy at the height release PE = mass * gravity * height This allows you to roughly approximate the amount of KE energy at impact as well as the velocity of the falling object. This excludes and air resistance or external forces such as wind. Remember to keep your calculation in SI units. 1 ton of TNT is equal to 4.184×109 J *** remember that KE + PE = 0

  8. Glenn Marks says:

    I would like to see this experiment done again with a simple GPS guiding system on steerable tail fins and a rocket motor that is activated when the projectile is released from the helicopter so it has kinetic energy closer to the real thing i.e. so it’s faster than terminal velocity. Combine with another YouTuber that has experience with GPS guided model craft and rockets.

    • Forgi LaGeord says:

      I don’t think any consumer-available rocket motor would have any significant effect on the speed of a projectile this massive.

  9. Ananth Raj Kumar says:

    Common sense, if you want to hit a target with a projectile it must have an onboard navigation and propulsion system. Practically speaking, the rods cannot intercept an icbm or bomb a silo.

  10. Eric The Epic says:

    I find it funny that Adam Savage is in this video, and it’s not even mentioned. I’m just used to him being the one talking to a camera out in the desert, busting a myth.

    • dapretenda85 says:

      Haha. I thought this had all the hallmarks of a myth busters episode, then he popped up!

    • Bird Is The Word says:

      @Kazaha ツ So that is a thing. Thank you for confirming lol

    • Wannabe Wallaby says:

      He just spawns whenever you do a science experiment in the desert

    • ramses campollo says:

      @MrBeest is ruining the planet[recent vid explains] wow man no need to flex your 6 alts

    • Jeremy DeCaro says:

      Repent….believe in Jesus. John 3:16 KJV – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
      Luke 13:3 KJV – I tell you nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
      John 3:3 KJV – “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

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