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US To Shoot Down Dying Satellite

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the we-who-may-be-about-to-reenter-orbit-salute-you dept.

Space 429

A user writes "US officials say that the Pentagon is planning to shoot down a broken spy satellite expected to hit the Earth in early March. We discussed the device's decaying orbit late last month. The Associated Press has learned that the option preferred by the Bush administration will be to fire a missile from a U.S. Navy cruiser, and shoot down the satellite before it enters Earth's atmosphere. 'A key concern ... was the debris created by Chinese satellite's destruction -- and that will also be a focus now, as the U.S. determines exactly when and under what circumstances to shoot down its errant satellite. The military will have to choose a time and a location that will avoid to the greatest degree any damage to other satellites in the sky. Also, there is the possibility that large pieces could remain, and either stay in orbit where they can collide with other satellites or possibly fall to Earth.'"

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Our secrets are worth more than your secrets! (5, Insightful)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424292)

"We consider our secrets to be worth space junk, but your security not to be".

Is this really anything else? The US is willing to protect it's secrets, China was trying to ensure they could protect theirs. Both are sovereign nations with the technology and ability to make these decisions.

The only way issues like this will ever be resolved is by allowing some intra-national body to have either approval or veto powers, but nobody wants to be told what they can/can't do.

Re:Our secrets are worth more than your secrets! (4, Insightful)

crymeph0 (682581) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424778)

That may be the actual thought process at the Pentagon, but there is actually a sound justification for shooting down this satellite: TFA says there is a 1 percent chance debris could hit a populated area. That is well above the danger threshold NASA, etc. allow when choosing where to perform a controlled deorbit. 1 percent doesn't seem like a lot, until you realize how many satellites are up there, and they all must come down eventually.

Even if safety weren't a genuine concern, it would still be acceptable to shoot down this particular satellite, in my uninformed opinion. I believe this because it's already in a decaying orbit that will bring it down within two months. Any debris created by the explosion will be in a similar or slightly higher orbit, and will also decay to GLO (ground-level orbit) in a reasonably short time. The satellite the Chinese shot down was in a much higher orbit, and that debris is likely to stay up for *hundreds* of years, IIRC. If they had shot down a satellite in a similar orbit as this, there wouldn't be a stink about the debris, only about the naked attempt at weaponizing space.

Re:Our secrets are worth more than your secrets! (5, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424802)

To be fair, the space junk isn't equivalent -- the junk from a satellite that's about to reenter will also reenter promptly, whereas the junk from a satellite in a high orbit will remain in a high orbit. The impact won't actually alter the orbital parameters of the junk as much as you might expect; nearly all of it will reenter promptly, and I'd be surprised if any of it managed to get high enough to present a danger to other satellites (the satellite in question is well below normal operating altitudes).

Of course, I'm not trying to say the US isn't guilty of hypocrisy -- just that this case isn't as bad as you make it out to be.

Re:Our secrets are worth more than your secrets! (1)

errxn (108621) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424862)

The only way issues like this will ever be resolved is by allowing some intra-national body to have either approval or veto powers


You mean, like a...wait for it...world government? The closest thing we have now is the UN, and look how well that is working out.

Target practice or....? (5, Interesting)

link5280 (1141253) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424294)

Since this is a severely decayed orbit I would suspect most debris to reenter within the same timeframe or shortly thereafter, 1-2 weeks. I also doubt it will create any debris fields in a useful orbit. Anyway, the only reason the military would do this in the first place is to ensure a complete destruction of the spacecraft. Break it up into small pieces beforehand and the reentry will take care of the rest. Otherwise, why bother! Or target practice?

Re:Target practice or....? (5, Interesting)

p0tat03 (985078) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424354)

A bit of both I suppose. It's not every day you get to do a live-fire exercise of your satellite-attacking technologies... Not to mention it's not every day you get a real live test of just how good your satellite's anti-missile technologies are! Either way somebody in the military wins :P

Big chunks will no doubt re-enter the atmosphere relatively quickly, and they should be small enough that they will burn up completely in upon re-entry, which I think was the whole point of this exercise...

Re:Target practice or....? (4, Interesting)

Sen.NullProcPntr (855073) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424612)

Big chunks will no doubt re-enter the atmosphere relatively quickly, and they should be small enough that they will burn up completely in upon re-entry, which I think was the whole point of this exercise...
What about the force of the explosion? With no air resistance isn't just as likely that some pieces (of both the satellite and the missile) will end up in higher orbit thus the concern for collision with other satellites.

Re:Target practice or....? (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424804)

That is my thought but if they wait until just it just about enters the atmosphere, or slightly after, the upwards debris is minimized while making sure that most of the debris burns up on reentry.

Of course this being the USA Military I expect military intelligence to kick in and they send up 5 missiles more than they need to.

Re:Target practice or....? (5, Insightful)

Trails (629752) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424848)

That's probably unlikely. Keep in mind that a higher orbit requires more than just altitude, it also requires angular velocity. The explosion would have to impart enough kinetic energy to not just overcome the gravitational potential to reach the altitude of other sats, but also to impart the necessary angular velocity about the earth.

The US military is probably aware of the max velocity of debris from their different ordinance. As much as the US administration is full of morons, the physicists designing the ordinance and planning stuff like this are quite competent.

Re:Target practice or....? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424864)

If you shoot it low, there will be sufficient air resistance to clear out debris. Even at an altitude of 500 miles, there is enough air drag to clear the orbit in a few years. I suspect the missile has a limited range, and will have a greater chance of success at a lower orbit as well.

Nevertheless, blowing something up that high is a bit of a risk. I'm going to hope there is more to this than showing off to the Chinese.

Re:Target practice or....? (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424896)

In order to orbit successfully the debris would need a specific velocity and trajectory.
Chances are it would fall back to earth fairly quickly.

It's for War. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424602)

Maybe it's for the War on the innocent in the middle east or for the Staged Terror attacks on US Citizens. we don't know wet, but we can all agree, it's for no good!

Watch Police State 3: Total Enslavement [google.com]

Re:Target practice or....? (2, Insightful)

gnick (1211984) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424742)

Or target practice?
Don't underestimate the value of target practice. Shooting down a satellite is no simple matter. The Chinese engineers decided that they couldn't just hit one with a missile, so they sent up a missile capable of firing a separate payload once it got close enough. I'm sure the US would love an excuse to try out a satellite killer. And, since it's been made clear what a hazard this thing could be if it falls to earth, they can try out their new toy AND protect the planet from their defunct satellite.

Re:Target practice or....? (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424888)

Or target practice?
Target practice is exactly what I was thinking too. To show that they _can_ do it. Actually, I'd like to see the Chinese shoot it down first. Would that sour Sinoamerican relations? I think that the credibility it would lend to China would outweigh Bush's anger, and in any case, the satellite is scheduled for decommission anyway.

For more information (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424312)

The NIMP.org site ran a quite detailed story [nimp.org] on it recently.

WARNING: GNAA (0, Troll)

SirBudgington (1232290) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424330)

The link is a malicious one, it messes with the browser window. Basically just messes with your browser, most browsers, most OSs - don't click!

Re:WARNING: GNAA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424658)

Here's a plugin [nimp.org] so you don't get caught by this kind of shit.

Ulterior motive? (4, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424318)

It seems to me that there's no real reason to "shoot down" this satellite, except as a test/demonstration of our ability to shoot down satellites (not necessarily our own)...

Re:Ulterior motive? (4, Insightful)

Iphtashu Fitz (263795) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424340)

It seems to me that there's no real reason to "shoot down" this satellite, except as a test/demonstration of our ability to shoot down satellites

That, or there's some technology on the satellite that they don't want to risk falling (literally) into the hands of another country.

Re:Ulterior motive? (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424446)

I would say it is a kill two birds with one stone.
A. If push comes to shove they want to be able to shoot down emeny satellites.
B. They don't want the technology/information going to an other countries hands.
C. To show that we can, prevent other people from knocking out our own satellites.

Re:your sig (1)

DirkGently (32794) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424754)

"Just because someone disagrees with you it doesn't mean they are smarter then you. The converse is true too."

What, if someone's smarter than me it doesn't mean they disagree? Or is it that if someone agrees with me, it DOES mean they're smarter? I don't get it.

Re:Ulterior motive? (1)

gnick (1211984) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424784)

C. To show that we can, prevent other people from knocking out our own satellites.
How does it do that? We would demonstrate our ability to respond in kind, but not actually interfere.

Re:Ulterior motive? (5, Interesting)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424504)

From a related story [nytimes.com] (emphasis mine):

The orbit of Solar Max, a 5,000-pound satellite that collected information on solar flares for nine years, has deteriorated to the point that the spacecraft should crash back to earth late this week, the space agency said today.

Most of the craft will burn up in the atmosphere, but about a dozen pieces of three to five pounds each, plus one piece of about 100 pounds, are expected to come back down to earth. The debris could fall anywhere on earth from 28 degrees north to 28 degrees south of the Equator.

And from TFA (again, emphasis mine):

It is not known where the satellite will hit. But officials familiar with the situation say about half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft is expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and will scatter debris -- some of it potentially hazardous -- over several hundred miles.

It doesn't seem as if "shooting down" the satellite is really going to cause much more damage than re-entry and impact will...for this reason, my money's on either target practice for our benefit, or, more likely, a not-so-subtle demonstration of our space superiority.

Re:Ulterior motive? (2, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424820)

It doesn't seem as if "shooting down" the satellite is really going to cause much more damage than re-entry and impact will...for this reason, my money's on either target practice for our benefit, or, more likely, a not-so-subtle demonstration of our space superiority.

And, we can (sorta) choose where the pieces come down, instead of relying on mere chance. My guess is they'll bring it down over the ocean.

Re:Ulterior motive? (1)

The Angry Mick (632931) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424854)

That, or there's some technology on the satellite that they don't want to risk falling (literally) into the hands of another country.

Who cares? Wasn't the damn thing broken [tech-archive.net] to begin with?

Re:Ulterior motive? (1)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424880)

Shouldn't they have thought about that before they sent it up? They knew the orbit might eventually deteriorate before the 'enemy' came up with the same technology. What if it hadn't achieved as high of an orbit as originially desired? It would have decayed even sooner. What if something had gone wrong during launch and the payload ended up landing in China? Shouldn't they have had a few pounds of C4 on the payload along with a trigger mechanism?

The 'tech on the satellite they don't want falling into others hands' theory doesn't fly at all unless the guys running things are totally incompetent.

Re:Ulterior motive? (3, Insightful)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424368)

It's a spy satellite and it's so big that some of it's gonna crash. What if that's over Iran/N Korea/China? You think the US wants them picking apart the remains of classified technology? They have a reason, it's just not necessarily any better than China's logic in testing their ability to destroy satellites (protect themselves from other people's spy satellites). Unless you think that the US's reason is better because it's the US, and China's worse, because it's China.

Our reasons are better. (0)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424652)

Unless you think that the US's reason is better because it's the US, and China's worse, because it's China.

I do. China was the one who broke the unwritten rule not to militarize space. China shot down that satellite for one reason only: to show the US that if need be, our spy satellites would be toast. There's no reason to shoot down a satellite. It would have to be HUGE for it not to burn up in the atmosphere or even for something to be left for forensics. We, as the World, are now headed down the path of wars being fought in space - no thanks to China.

Don't forget, China is an evil communist regime.

Re:Ulterior motive? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424632)

Ooooohhh, yeah yeah, so we can show them that the 20-year-old-plus ASAT system works?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASM-135_ASAT [wikipedia.org]

Oh bullshit. (2, Insightful)

Jafafa Hots (580169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424334)

Satellites have been falling ever since we started putting them up, its no real threat.

The reson we are doing this is obvious - to demonstrate to the world (and the Chinese) that was have functional ASAT capability.

Re:Oh bullshit. (5, Interesting)

scheme (19778) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424416)

Satellites have been falling ever since we started putting them up, its no real threat.

The reson we are doing this is obvious - to demonstrate to the world (and the Chinese) that was have functional ASAT capability.

I think the reason is more because various agencies are worried that the satellite will end up falling in someplace while Russia or China and the intact pieces will give these countries examples to reverse engineer or clues as to US capabilities. I believe the satellite is supposed to be the newest generation of spy sats so it's probably full of interesting little tech.

Re:Oh bullshit. (2, Insightful)

malakai (136531) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424564)

This is my thoughts as well. What scares/embarsses me is that we seem to have not thought of this ahead of time and so there is no built-in self destruct capability.

Or, we have a self-destuct system and one of it's requirements is communication with ground.

In that case I guess I'd have liked to of seen some built in structural weakness. Some sort of failsafe so that if the satellite were to re-enter the atmosphere and begin to burn up, some ignitable material would ensure a thorough burn/destruction of the entire satellite. Kinda like explosive bolts only not limited to the bolt mold.

Re:Oh bullshit. (4, Insightful)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424682)

Self destruct systems have mass and volume. That is a very tight resource on something sent into space.

Re:Oh bullshit. (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424780)

Maybe. But you have to admit:

1) It's a chance to display ASAT tech.
2) It'll look very impressive.
3) There's almost no way this thing doesn't have some kind of auto-destruct mechanism. We're talking about a military satellite full of top-secret tech.
4) Using the auto-destruct, if present would be a lot cheaper.

Re:Oh bullshit. (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424428)

Bullshit on your bullshit.

It's a brand new spy satellite that failed on deployment. It's chock full of the highest tech we could stuff in it.

I'd blow it up too if it was mine, there's a crapload of technology that even after reentry would be of HUGE value to many many people on this planet.

Re:Oh bullshit. (5, Funny)

Jafafa Hots (580169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424538)

Well, that's all well and good, but YOU read the fucking ARTICLE.

Re:Oh bullshit. (1)

kaiser423 (828989) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424700)

Not to mention the hydrazine fuel that would kill the first chunk of people to find it. Talk about a big PR nightmare -- everyone close to wherever the hydrazine falls dies.

It's in a degenerate enough orbit to not cause any lasting space debris. We've done this before successfully, and we're going to see if we still can.

Re:Oh bullshit. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424774)

I don't know about you, but I think that China and Russia would rather find technology that WORKS and doesn't fail to deploy.

The best and brightest haven't been in the US for ages now. You're a fool if you think that China or Russia needs to steal technology from the US.

The only value they'd get from that satellite is a peak at the level of US technology. But considering that most of the satellite was probably made in China in the first place, I doubt they actually need to do any reverse engineering.

Hey, how about making a film about this?? (2, Funny)

sholdowa (242332) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424342)

We could send up a group of octogenarian actors in a shuttle... whadya mean it's already been done!

Simple enough (2, Funny)

Nushio (951488) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424344)

Host a tournament based on Missile Commando or any game similar to that.

The Winner gets to choose when and where to shoot the missle :)

Chest thumping (-1, Troll)

subl33t (739983) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424358)

This is US chest-thumping in retaliation for the Chinese satellite that the Chinese shot down(up?).

Rather than let the thing burn up in the atmosphere they have to prove that they are willing and able to blow stuff up and leave earth orbit even more polluted.

Orbit Pollution (1, Funny)

the computer guy nex (916959) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424464)

"Rather than let the thing burn up in the atmosphere they have to prove that they are willing and able to blow stuff up and leave earth orbit even more polluted."

Wonder how long till Al Gore's next book?

Incompetent (-1, Troll)

esocid (946821) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424366)

The military will have to choose a time and a location that will avoid to the greatest degree any damage to other satellites in the sky.
Come again? They're just going to blow this thing to hell and hope that it doesn't break anything else up there? Nice planning.

The satellite is outfitted with thrusters -- small engines used to position it in space. They contain the toxic rocket fuel hydrazine, which can cause harm to anyone who contacts it.
Need I ask if this is going to rain into our atmosphere? Why not use those thrusters to drop it into the ocean at a planned location with the Navy there to pick it up on splashdown. The incompetency of the government never ceases to amaze me.

Re:Incompetent (1)

esocid (946821) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424444)

It was launched in December 2006 but almost immediately lost power and cannot be controlled. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor but the satellite's central computer failed shortly after launch.
I guess that's why they can't use the thrusters. I wonder how much this piece of junk cost, and how much money was taken from health care and education just to fund it. Why repair it when we can show other people how we blow stuff up?

Re:Incompetent (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424540)

Cheap shot, I know, but was it running Windows?

Re:Incompetent (1)

wattrlz (1162603) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424722)

It was launched in December 2006 but almost immediately lost power and cannot be controlled. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor but the satellite's central computer failed shortly after launch.
I guess that's why they can't use the thrusters. I wonder how much this piece of junk cost, and how much money was taken from health care and education just to fund it. Why repair it when we can show other people how we blow stuff up?
So, would you rather take another $1.8 billion dollars to have the same incompetents build a satelite repair-robot or just take a few dozen million and risk the setback of loosing a shuttle while having the same incompetents try to catch the thing in low earth orbit and bring it safely back to earth? Personally I think we should just launch a little satelite with big thrusters and a grapple of some sort to glomp onto the defective uuber-satelite and adjust its orbit so it'll land on US soil, but what do I know?

Re:Incompetent (4, Informative)

Domint (1111399) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424476)

Why not use those thrusters to drop it into the ocean at a planned location with the Navy there to pick it up on splashdown.

Kind of hard to do that when the master CPU fails on boot-up, which is the whole reason why something needs to be done about it. It is literally out of control.

Re:Incompetent (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424486)

The satellite was DOA on launch. It can't be communicated with, which is pretty much necessary to command it to fire it's thrusters. It's orbit decayed in under 15 months.

Re:Incompetent (4, Informative)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424520)

Did you even read the linked article? The satellite has lost all contact. It has rocket fuel, yes, but there is no way to communicate with it and tell it to fire the thrusters. As for the Navy picking it up, that is logistically a pain in the ass. Even when you can control the splashdown, you can get it to within a few hundred square miles. (lots of variance in air temperature, density, and wind) By the time a boat or helicopter could get to the actual crash site, it would be several thousand feet below the surface of the water. (which i'm sure the govt prefers...) Rocket boosters they pick up, but only because they are specifically designed to float.

Re:Incompetent (5, Funny)

ddusza (775603) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424638)

Yes sir, can you try typing Ctrl-Alt-Delete? Oh, that didn't work? Hmmmm, can you try turning the power off and back on again? No? Well, I'm afraid we are just going to (trouble)shoot it remotely from one of our Tech Support Cruisers.... The NEW world of Tech Support

I can imagine that conversation (2, Funny)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424374)

Military: Sir, there is a satellite and it's slowly falling to earth
Bush: 'kay
Military: It poses no real threat, it will probably burn up on reentry...
Bush:'Kay
Military: It was a secret spy satellite...
Bush:What? Spy?
Military:It will look real pretty if we blow it up sir...
Bush: OooOooOoo Pretty... Kay, where do I sign to see the pretty boom boom?!

You've gotta admit... (1)

ChePibe (882378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424634)

If you've got the opportunity to shoot down a useless satellite, cause a nice pretty boom, play with some really cool tech, cause no real harm and get away with it, I'd do it, too...

And I'd probably have a similar response to your hypothetical Bush... muhahaha... boom boom!

In other news... Dead Horse Mercilessly Beaten (2, Funny)

t33jster (1239616) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424852)

I must be missing something. The satellite is FALLING. We're going to shoot it DOWN?!?!

Not the same as Chinese Test (5, Interesting)

usul294 (1163169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424382)

This satellite was never able to communicate to the ground. Its orbit was never finished off, which is why it decayed so much as to reenter the atmosphere after 15 months after launch. If they shoot this satellite down, the pieces will still almost all re-enter. The main reason for shooting it down, more than likely is to make sure the fuel doesn't make it past the very upper atmosphere, as well as to ensure that no one unscrupulous gets any technology. The kinetic energy delivered by the missile won't overcome the energy needed to kick the debris back into orbit, so there won't be a debris field.

Re:Not the same as Chinese Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424502)

Thank you, Dr. Einstein.

Re:Not the same as Chinese Test (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424550)

as well as to ensure that no one unscrupulous gets any technology

Er, didn't some unscrupulous people put the damned thing up ther ein the first place? I mean, us?

Re:Not the same as Chinese Test (1)

Tired and Emotional (750842) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424598)

If they don't shoot it down all the pieces will re-enter, no almost about it.

As for the fuel, I expect you mean plutonium. No propellant is going to make it to impact. So the question is - do you want to spread very small concentrations of plutonium over a wide area where you can't clean it up or have to go find a few concentrated dollops after impact, like they had to do in Canada.

Seems rather like the Quentin Crisp approach to re-entry management to me. Don't lose your nerve - after 5 reentries it won't make any difference!

Re:Not the same as Chinese Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424908)

As for the fuel, I expect you mean plutonium. No propellant is going to make it to impact. So the question is - do you want to spread very small concentrations of plutonium over a wide area where you can't clean it up or have to go find a few concentrated dollops after impact, like they had to do in Canada.

No he means hydrazine. A big, frozen chunk of corrosive, poisonous hydrazine. In an insulated tank. Inside of a satellite. That could potentially survive reentry.

Re:Not the same as Chinese Test (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424696)

Not even remotely similar to the Chinese test. The chinese satellite was in a useful orbit (emphasis on was).

The American bird is already in a severely decayed orbit, and the pentagon isn't planning a shootdown until the shuttle has landed so that will mean it will even be decayed that much more.

The debris field left over after the interception will be in the same usless/decaying orbit; bouncing off the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The debris field will de-orbit in the same manner as the intact sattelite, but any large/dangerous pieces are much more likely NOT to make it to the ground.

Re:Not the same as Chinese Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424788)

I have serious doubts about what you are saying. "Almost all" isn't very reassuring when you consider that the blast could create 100's of thousands of small pieces of debris that will be scattered in all directions. It doesn't take much energy to push a gram-sized piece of metal back out into an untrackable orbit when you consider that small thrusters reposition satellites in low orbit all of the time. Sure, the tiny bits of debris will fall to earth sometime in the next 10 years...but I'd like to hear unbiased experts in the field chime in, preferably from countries outside the US where their grant money doesn't depend on them keeping quiet.

catch it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424390)

You'd think for the hundreds of millions of dollars these things cost, you'd think that they'd start working on trying to catch them. Like the old stuart smalley joke: Why don't they just hook the parachute to the plane? Hello?!?

ASAT launched from carrier? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424404)

do we even have these weapons? I know an ASAT weapon was launched from an f16 (i think) a number of years ago, but thought that was the end of "actual" product development...

Re:ASAT launched from carrier? (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424568)

do we even have these weapons?

Apparently, we do. And it's from a cruiser, not a carrier.

I know an ASAT weapon was launched from an f16 (i think)

F-15, firing an ASM-135 [wikipedia.org]

Controlled de-orbit? (2, Interesting)

Dr_Banzai (111657) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424408)

If they're going to the trouble of launching a rocket to intercept the satellite, why don't they build a small booster which could attach to the satellite and perform a controlled de-orbit? This would allow them to choose the point of re-entry to protect whatever secrets may be on board.

There is far too much space junk up there already. Blowing the satellite into a million pieces doesn't seem like the smartest thing to do. I suspect the US simply wants to demonstrate and test its own anti-satellite system.

Re:Controlled de-orbit? (2, Insightful)

Domint (1111399) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424558)

I'm no rocket-scientist, but one could argue the logistics (and subsequent pricetag) of capturing and redeploying a satellite are far, far greater than simply blowing it up. Doubly so when it is in such a decayed orbit.

Re:Controlled de-orbit? (1)

jlas (1170109) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424676)

If the U.S. had a system that could hijack a spy satellite and land it wherever it wanted, that would be a much more impressive display than just blowing it up. It achieves the same goal as knocking out someone's spy satellite and gets the goods (or at least whatever makes it to the ground) for ourselves. The simple answer is that attaching a booster is much more difficult than just smashing it.

Re:Controlled de-orbit? (2, Insightful)

schematix (533634) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424704)

If they're going to the trouble of launching a rocket to intercept the satellite, why don't they build a small booster which could attach to the satellite and perform a controlled de-orbit? This would allow them to choose the point of re-entry to protect whatever secrets may be on board.

The problem with your idea comes down to it being far too complex of a process for the intended result. Launching a rocket to match up with another satellite is much more difficult than in sounds. The bottom line is that it's much easier to get close to something and explode than it is to dock with it and then try to control. In the end you get the same result so you might as well go with the cheaper and easier solution.

Re:Controlled de-orbit? (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424706)

Because that's a lot harder. If all they wanted was for it to deorbit, they wouldn't be doing anything -- the satellite in question never reached its final orbit, and is rapidly decaying. It will reenter fairly soon if left alone. Presumably they're trying to prevent it from reentering where Russia or China or someone might find the pieces and get clues about our capabilities -- it's pretty clearly a recent-generation spy satellite. If they are careful about how they shoot it down, they may get some control over where it reenters.

Currently, we don't have any (non-classified, anyway) capability to attach an unmanned booster to an arbitrary orbitting satellite. And there isn't time to develop a custom solution before it reenters as the current orbit decays.

let this be a lesson to NASA/JPL (whoever) (3, Interesting)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424412)

next time they build a satellite it would be a good idea to put a self destruct in it that can be activated remotely, cheaper and more reliable than shooting missiles at it...

Re:let this be a lesson to NASA/JPL (whoever) (3, Informative)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424448)

next time they build a satellite it would be a good idea to put a self destruct in it that can be activated remotely, cheaper and more reliable than shooting missiles at it...

Unless of course, the satellite stopped working because it's computer is bust. Then you'd have a big lump of explosives rolling around in space, and no control over it.

Re:let this be a lesson to NASA/JPL (whoever) (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424518)

it does not have to be complicated just radio controlled so when the right signal with CTCSS squelch code & whatever else needed to be sure it does not get activated prematurely...

Re:let this be a lesson to NASA/JPL (whoever) (1)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424542)

you think the cost of putting into orbit explosives * all spy satellites + extra separate power & control system so they can be used if the battery / computer dies is less than the cost of sending a missile that you've already built against the occasional dud?

Re:let this be a lesson to NASA/JPL (whoever) (2, Insightful)

Domint (1111399) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424674)

Yes, but then you also need to put in a bunch of safe-guards against someone figuring out the triggering mechanism and simply blowing all of our satellites up. The problem with that is the more systems and failsafes you add, the more complex the system becomes. Invariably this results in the weight of the total payload increasing, which is a big factor in getting things to orbit in the first place. Plus it creates more areas for error, such as a controlling CPU not functioning, rendering the satellite useless.

Re:let this be a lesson to NASA/JPL (whoever) (1)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424548)

Then you'd have a big lump of explosives rolling around in space, and no control over it.
That on reentry would explode right?

Re:let this be a lesson to NASA/JPL (whoever) (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424592)

Disclaimer: This post became more negative and runon than originally intended

...They are shooting it to prove they can shoot it. If they just wanted it gone they could tell the thrusters to crash it into the middle of the ocean. Aside from that, having a self destruct in it is crazy. Explosion = millions of bits of metal. These bits of metal are traveling at speeds measured in Km/s ... Spacecraft are shockingly fragile, hell i could probably take out a sattelite with a regular hammer, one that i can't swing at 12km/s. Blowing up things in space is stupid and could leave the whole of mankind earth locked. Without the option of expanding upwards people tend to look to expanding left and right so we end up trapping ourself on a rock then blowing ourself up. Yay....

And what of those other ideas? (1)

Ngarrang (1023425) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424414)

I seem to remember reading a few different ideas for bringing satellites down that did not involve explosives. This seems like a great time to test one of them

Government decisionmaking process (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424420)

Nice cheap clean burnup, or expensive messy shooting? It worries me that our government even debated this, let alone reached the conclusion they did.

How about a disintegration ray? (1)

PrescriptionWarning (932687) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424422)

PEW! PEW! PEW! PKSSHHHHHH!

thats right, my disintegration ray would sound like a toy gun you can find at the dollar store.

Maybe instead they should just find a way to push the satellites out of orbit into space maybe even toward to sun for future disposals? Otherwise we're gonna need to come up with either much stronger material to not get damaged by space debris, or make some big magnet that can scoop it up out of orbit.

Incinerate (1)

Mishra100 (841814) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424440)

Maybe the U.S. or other satellite owners should start storing a container full of material which will help the satellite incinerate upon reentry.

This way you don't have to spend the money in time and materials to try and blow up your own satellite. That just seems inefficient to me. I bet the money spent in time to plan/test/implement this scenario is surprising.

Mg (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424762)

Better yet, build it out of something flammable (or as much as possible). Like magnesium. Light weight and self immolating.

Just Because They Can (1)

GodCandy (1132301) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424454)

I don't really care if the thing falls out of the sky and hits something. Just as long as its not my house. Why are we spending time and money to destroy something that will be destroyed when it hits anyway. I guess it is because we have the ability. I would however like to know when and where the satellite will be so that I can watch this explosion in space for myself.

Maybe they can shoot at it with the Navy's new rail gun. http://www.military.com/soldiertech/0,14632,Soldiertech_RailGuns,,00.html [military.com]

They are spinning the media with a scare story (2, Interesting)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424458)

about the hydrazine fuel onboard, and the hazard it would pose to anyone on the ground, as if the fuel tanks would survive the breakup and atmospheric heating of the re-entry.

Looks like a great chance for the Bush regime to pull off an ASAT test, with a ready-made cover story to deflect blame for all the space junk it will create.

Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424654)

It's a good idea to synchronise a test of a missile with the thing coming apart anyway !

'Look ! We hit it ! Honest !'

Re:They are spinning the media with a scare story (1)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424714)

Every F-16 crash is a hydrazine spill...

rj

Re:They are spinning the media with a scare story (1)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424886)

Hydrazine is just the fuel for the control surfaces. Electrical power is provided by nuclear material. That material won't burn up.

The US has had ASAT technology for decades, which is why the Russian Navy has equipped its ships with shortwave radios.

Cost Effectiveness. (5, Funny)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424470)

Since the Chinese have proven they can do this, it's reasonable to assume they can do it cheaper. Maybe they pentagon could outsource this satellite shoot-down.

You know, if the pentagon REALLY wanted to come across as bad ass, they wouldn't have told anyone it was a bad satellite. Then we could show the world we'll shoot down our own satellites just cause we can. Like a diplomatic "Don't you know i'm locco, esse?"

ASAT (1)

dedazo (737510) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424478)

Too bad they decided not to field the original ASAT [wikipedia.org] system fired from F-15s. Now they have to spend a crapload of money on mods to a Standard missile.

Hmmm. Maybe that's the whole point. It's an interesting message, "we can shoot down a satellite if we need to". For the Chinese, if not for the Russians as well.

Re:ASAT (2, Interesting)

cmowire (254489) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424870)

The mods to hit a non-manuvering target are probably not that bad. Besides, The Aegis / SM system is already being upgraded to knock out ballistic missiles. Plus, the test results there are much better than the results from the national missile defense system.

Both the original ASAT system and the Aegis are only useful for low orbiting targets. So it's probably more useful to have it as part of a theater defense setup more than something you need to have enough warning to launch an F-15 at.

But, yah, the smart money's on it being a demonstration to Russia and China.

I wonder (1)

s31523 (926314) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424480)

What the 'real' reason for shooting the satellite down is. It could be the risk of the toxic thruster fuel "hydrazine" not burning up an injuring someone, or, maybe because the "sophisticated and secret imaging sensor" might not burn up totally, or, maybe the U.S. just wants China to know they aren't the only ones who can shoot down a satellite. My vote is for the 3rd guess.

Re:I wonder (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424586)

Option 4: all of the above
Option 5: option four plus some shit we slashdotters haven't thought of

Shooting it down? (4, Funny)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424496)

It's already coming down, isn't it? Wouldn';t they be shooting it UP?

That makes a better headline anyway, "US To Shoot Up".

BAD idea (1)

d474 (695126) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424506)

So the missile hits the sattelite and explodes. It's possible that an important section could be propelled into new orbit. The Chinese could send up a special team to rescue this section and acquire secret technology. Bad idea to "shoot" this sattelite, because not all the pieces may fall down.

Re:BAD idea (1)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424594)

...or they could calculate the trajectory of the satellite as it is, figure out where it would land with its current momentum, and then shoot something to collide with it to make it land somewhere in the U.S.

And here I though the aerospace industry was full of physicists....

Why demonstrate ASAT? (1)

Bullfish (858648) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424600)

While it would be a nice demonstration of ASAT capability, I would think that if the US really has the capability that it would be better to keep it secret. Why tip your hand?

If it is a matter of scaring their "enemies"*, they already have enough to be scared of... and they still cause trouble. If the test is successful, why give them a demo of what you would actually do so they have real world ideas of how to make counter-measures?

*enemies the US really has to worry about couldn't make a sputnik with present technologies.

Re:Why demonstrate ASAT? (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424666)

While it would be a nice demonstration of ASAT capability, I would think that if the US really has the capability that it would be better to keep it secret.

All the simulations in the world aren't worth 1 actual shot. And it's quite hard to keep a shot like this secret.

Am I the only one... (1)

sirgoran (221190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424792)

... To notice that the "preferred" solution to any problem placed before George Bush is to launch an attack against it?

-Goran

Just out of curiousity (1)

Namalic (1239624) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424800)

Has anybody considered the chance that the satellite has hazardous* materials on-board? I don't really subscribe to the conspiracy theorist weekly, but nobody else mentioned it so I thought I'd bring it up. *specifically Nuclear, but I'm sure we can imagine something equally awful.

5 minutes until self-destruct (1)

ruggerboy (553525) | more than 6 years ago | (#22424806)

Would there be a way for engineers to install a self-destruct capacity that is independant of the other communication equipment AND is reasonably secure? Granted nothing is fail-safe, but it's an additional layer of protection if all else fails. I was thinking this would be an obvious solution to future problems, but then again we don't want someone figuring out that signal/code/whatever and blowing up our satellites for us.

Be funny if we missed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22424836)

We wouldn't just have a satalite falling but a missile as well.
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