By now you've probably heard the strange story of USA 193, the out-of-control military satellite slated to be shot out of the sky this evening. Amidst controversy over the safety and necessity of the mission, the U.S. Navy is planning to launch a $10-million missile from the USS Lake Erie somewhere west of Hawaii as early as 9:30pm EST and take the school-bus-sized sat down.
Launched in December 2006 by the ultra hush-hush National Reconnaissance Organization, the rogue satellite sported a powerful imaging sensor and a central computer that failed almost immediately. Its orbit began to decay, gradually and then suddenly. And when it became clear that the satellite would plummet to Earth this week, the government grew concerned that its 1,000 pounds of onboard fuel would survive the plunge and pose a health risk to anyone who came in contact with the hydrazine gas. That's their side, anyway—and their explanation for preparing three SM3 anti-ballistic missile interceptors to shoot the bugger down from an Aegis destroyer.
It's also distinctly possible that they'd just rather not have key parts of a top-secret spy satellite splatter across random swatches of Commie (or any of the extremist groups we're afraid of these days) real estate. Some even speculate they're taking the opportunity for some practice shots. In the past week, Russia and China have been increasing crying foul, claiming this is a way for the U.S. to retaliate against China's unpopular anti-satellite weapon test by trying one of its own. In the last five years 328 satellites have fallen from orbit to earth without government intervention; the Pentagon argues none have had so much toxic hydrazine aboard.
The criticisms and conspiracy theories stem from the fact that the costs of the mission may be greater than the benefits. Debris from the destruction of the satellite could go spaceward instead of earthward, and though the Navy is taking great care to aim at an altitude low enough to prevent that, there's a possibility other orbiting bodies—even the International Space Station—could be hit. An imperfect but interesting calculation by geographer Tim Gulden puts the probability of the satellite landing in a populated place on Earth or dinging the ISS at about even.
The odds of both events actually occurring are fairly slim, but if you felt tempted to place a bet on where the satellite will land, you wouldn't be alone. Internet bookie betus.com has posted a number of wagers on where the USA 193 will end up after this evening's planned shoot-down. The site is currently posting 1-to-3 odds that it hits ocean and 1-to-a-trillion odds that it wakes up the Cloverfield monster. Of course, if that happens, good luck getting your money.
It could be that any of the 3 reasons given are legitimate.
1) How much hydrazine was in the 328 other satellites and for that matter how much was in the Challenger when it broke apart over Texas? What if the hydrazine was raining down over your neighborhood?
2) It's a spy satellite - I imagine any country would try to protect it's ability to conduct surveillance and if there is sensitive equipment onbard that might survive reentry and fall into the hands of an adversary...... Put the shoe on the other foot and ask yourself if China or Russia would pause in thought before shooting one of their own down.
3) It's a test in retaliation for China's test - Sounds alot like cold war nuclear tests. You want the other guy to know that you can do what he can do - but better. And I'm not trying to pick on any single country but think about this from an aspect of deterrence for a minute.
4) Satellite Spotters - Harmless hobby or threat ? I guess it depends what they track and publish on the web. These spotters are probably making it easier for people to hide things from prying eyes. I can only speculate who would have the most spy satellites in orbit and therefore be the most angry over this hobby.
Well, initial reports indicated that a single SM-3 hit the satellite at 247 kilometers over the Pacific ocean as it hurtled past at about 17,000 mph. Debris is supposed to begin entering the atmosphere almost imediately and nearly all is expected to burn up within 24-48 hours. Any remaining debris should re-enter within 40 days.
There will be a press briefing at 7am on the Pentagon channel.
Why couldn't the NRO have put some explosives in their super top secret spy satilite. It would seem like the benefit of being able to destroy the satilite would out weigh the cost of the extra weight incase of an eventuality such as this. If they put explosives in the space shuttle why not this.