Navy to Shoot Down Malfunctioning Satellite
Story Number: NNS080214-19 2/14/2008
By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy will shoot down a malfunctioning U.S. spy satellite sometime after Feb. 20, government officials said during a Pentagon news conference Feb. 14.
Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor, said President George W. Bush decided to bring down the satellite because of the likelihood that the satellite could release hydrazine, a toxic chemical used as a maneuvering fuel.
"The likelihood of the satellite falling in a populated area is small, and the extent and duration of toxic hydrazine in the atmosphere would be limited," Jeffrey said. "Nevertheless, if the satellite did fall in a populated area, there was the possibility of death or injury to human beings beyond that associated with the fall of satellites and other space debris."
The window for shooting down the satellite opens in the next three or four days and remains open for as many as seven or eight days, said Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said the study group looked carefully at increased risks to the shuttle and International Space Station and decided they are negligible. "We are very comfortable that this is a decision made carefully, objectively and safely," Griffin said. Still, the Navy will not fire until after the shuttle Atlantis mission ends Feb. 20.
In late January, the U.S. government notified other nations that the satellite was unresponsive and would make an uncontrolled reentry in late February or early March. The Navy has modified three SM-3 missiles aboard Aegis ships to strike the satellite, Cartwright said. The Navy wants to intercept the satellite at a point just above the atmosphere so there would be a high likelihood of bringing it down in an unpopulated area. An intercept also would rupture the hydrazine tank. The vice chairman would not say exactly where the ships would fire from, only saying it will be from the northern hemisphere and the Pacific Ocean.
Intercepting the satellite at about 130 nautical miles altitude will reduce the risk of debris in space. Once the satellite is hit, officials hope 50 percent of the debris will come to Earth in the first two orbits and the rest shortly thereafter, Cartwright said. The satellite belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office and was launched Dec. 14, 2006. It weighs roughly 5,000 pounds, and computer models show that roughly 2,800 pounds would survive reentry. "What is different here is the hydrazine," Cartwright said. "In this case, we have some historical background that we can work against for the tank that contains the hydrazine. We had a similar one on Columbia that survived reentry. We have a pretty reasonable understanding that, if the tank is left intact, it would survive the reentry."
The tank is circular with a radius of 20 inches. It holds about 1,000 pounds of the fuel. While details of the satellite are classified -- DoD officials will not release who built it or how much it costs -- that had no bearing on the decision to shoot it down, Cartwright said. The temperatures from reentry would burn up any classified system on the satellite, he said. Hydrazine is similar to chlorine or ammonia in that it affects lung tissue. People inhaling it would feel a burning sensation. "If you stay close to it and inhale a lot of it, it could be deadly," Cartwright said.
If the military did not shoot down the satellite, the hydrazine would disperse over an area roughly the size of two football fields, the general said. Those who breathed it would need medical attention. "As we reviewed the data, if we fire at the satellite, the worst that could happen is that we miss," Cartwright said. "Then we have a known situation, which is where we are today." Grazing the satellite would probably still bring it down quicker and more predictably, he said. "If we hit the hydrazine tank, then we've improved the potential to mitigate that threat," he said. "The regret factor of not acting clearly outweighed the regret factor of acting."
16 febbraio 2008
Tiro al bersaglio sul satellite spia
Potrebbero essere la USS Lake Erie, di stanza alle Hawaii, e la USS Decatur, le due unità della Marina america incaricate dell'abbattimento del satellite spia 193 del National Reconnaissance Office. L'operazione dovrebbe aver luogo il 20 febbraio da un punto non precisato del Pacifico, quando il satellite si troverà a circa 130 miglia di altitudine sul punto di entrare nell'atmosfera. Le chances di un rientro catastrofico, con pezzi del satellite che cadono su un centro abitato, sono minime. Ma uno dei rischi associati è la dispersione del carburante, l'idrazina, che è molto tossica. Il Pentagono ha così optato per un tentativo di distruzione del satellite, operazione che comporterebbe pochissimi rischi per altri oggetti orbitanti, in particolare la Space Station.
E da Pearl Harbor sono partite oggi le due navi, equipaggiate con un sistema di lancio verticale di missili SM-3. Naturalmente la comunità dei cosiddetti utility DXer starà ben allerta nel caso fosse possibile ricevere, in HF, parte delle comunicazioni tra le unità e i centri di comando e controllo. Sarebbe davvero un colpo eccezionale, anche se è verosimile che in una situazione del genere il traffico non satellitare sarà altamente protetto. Intanto, rimangono pochi giorni per cercare di avvistare il satellite da terra. Secondo Heavens Above proprio il 20 febbraio alle 18.11 ci dovrebbe essere un'ottima opportunità, con la navicella illuminata dal sole in una traiettoria sud-sud-ovest a est-nord-est, in corrispondenza di un passaggio sui cieli di Roma. Ma forse a quel punto il satellite sarà già stato colpito. Le finestre subito precedenti sono il 18 febbraio alle 18.25 e alle 19.56 o il 19 alle 18.18 e alle 19.50.