Satellite Shootdown Soon?

Slashdot has posted a news rumour that the shootdown of the American spy satellite USA 193 may occur in the next couple of days. The poster cites an analysis by amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan:

Amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan notes that a “Notice to Airmen” (NOTAM) has been issued announcing restricted airspace for February 21, between 02:30 and 05:00 UTC, in a region near Hawaii. Stricken satellite USA 193, which the US has announced plans to shoot down, will pass over this area at about 03:30. Interestingly, this is during the totality of Wednesday’s lunar eclipse, which may or may not make debris easier to observe

To add to the controversy, a new website entry from the Federation of American Scientists has asked whether the ‘shootdown’ is really necessary (or even a good thing), and proposes that the decision may be more related to the Navy grabbing the opportunity to test some anti-satellite technology without creating the controversy that China did last year. Meanwhile, Scientific American has posted a feature article which ponders whether we are entering a new era of ‘Space Wars‘.

No matter what the truth is behind the decision, or when the satellite ‘shootdown’ will occur, if you want to get a glimpse of it before it comes down, check out the Heavens Above website which has a resource page about the satellite, and tells you the best observing times for your location (enter your location via the front page first).

Editor
  1. It’s the Missing Nixon Tapes
    Does no one remember Steve Irwin? Blow it up to save us the toxic fuel? C’mon, this is from the folks who ship plutonium to unknown worlds, folks. Besides, remember SkyLab? it was way larger and they didn’t even fake a botched attempt to descintigrate that busload of exotic chemicals. Testing new toys? Hard to believe when there’s oodles of space junk out there, some of it abandoned in shopping mall parking lots.

    No, if you ask me (and Steve’s short-stop ‘gator) I think the old spy-cam has become a strategic target not for what it is, but for what might have been caught undumped on that last roll of film …

      1. Nope
        Certainly not those who are already predisposed to always think the worst of the U.S.

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        My apologies go out to all who were just offended by this hostile, confrontational and completely unreasonable post.

      2. US VS China
        Geopolitically speaking, the US had no choice but to do it at one point or another, with of course a politically correct justification.

        When China blew up that satellite, they made an obvious statement, particularly towards the US.

        But the US is much more involved than China in space up ’till today at least. They cant just take suit and blow up more debris all over the place, so they are doing it in a politically acceptable way, both minimizing the consequences and showing off their interception ability.

        A falling off satellite might be more representative of an incoming threat, although admittedly an incoming threat would not allow weeks of preparations.

        The US can’t miss this one. If they did, they might have to resort to a follow up interception missile. On the other hand, if they miss, it means more budget for research in that domain even though it may postpone actual full scale development. Missing could also bolster belligerent entity-states or organization into believing that the US still has an open flank.

        1. Bah
          You’re obviously trying to infer some sort of intelligence to Bush and the people in the Pentagon. Let me help you out:

          Bush is an evil genius, moronic cowboy of low intelligence and an inablity to speak in front of a crowd due to his incredible stupidity and Americans are war-mongering, uncultured, uneducated dolts. When in doubt, this default position is always acceptable. Get with the program.

          😉

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          My apologies go out to all who were just offended by this hostile, confrontational and completely unreasonable post.

    1. No Controvery
      [quote=teledyn]Does no one remember Steve Irwin? Blow it up to save us the toxic fuel? C’mon, this is from the folks who ship plutonium to unknown worlds, folks. Besides, remember SkyLab? it was way larger and they didn’t even fake a botched attempt to descintigrate that busload of exotic chemicals. Testing new toys? Hard to believe when there’s oodles of space junk out there, some of it abandoned in shopping mall parking lots.

      No, if you ask me (and Steve’s short-stop ‘gator) I think the old spy-cam has become a strategic target not for what it is, but for what might have been caught undumped on that last roll of film …[/quote]

      There was no ‘last roll of film’. It never went operational.

      Skylab was a huge empty tank. It was guaranteed to shred itself due to aerodynamics when it reentered. It wasn’t carrying a load of dangerous chemicals in a dense lump when it came in.

      James Oberg reported the same reason as the Navy; the half ton of hydrazine in a beryllium tank. I’ve never known Oberg to report anything but the truth. He also reported that the decision to intercept and the method used was arrived at after consultation with several experts outside the DoD.

      From the Wikipedia entry on hydrazine: “Hydrazine is highly toxic and dangerously unstable, especially in the anhydrous form. Symptoms of acute exposure to high levels of hydrazine in humans may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, pulmonary edema, seizures, coma, and it can also damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. The liquid is corrosive and may produce dermatitis from skin contact in humans and animals. Effects to the lungs, liver, spleen, and thyroid have been reported in animals chronically exposed to hydrazine via inhalation. Increased incidences of lung, nasal cavity, and liver tumors have been observed in rodents exposed to hydrazine.[17] Concerns about potential human injuries from exposure to hydrazine fuel were cited by the US government when it announced its plans to disintegrate the out-of-control USA 193 spy satellite while it is still in space.”

      The one point I’d raise: the melting point of hydrazine is 1 degree C, and the boiling point is 114 C. It is highly unlikely it’d come down in a frozen lump. It’d almost certainly be gaseous, compressed to near liquidity as it was when it went up. If the tank didn’t burst during reentry, it’d almost certainly burst on impact due to the combination of kinetics and internal pressure. More important than the toxicity is the flammability. Its flash point is 37 C. On the satellite it was intended as a monopropellant, essentially just pressurized gas because it compresses so much (and decompresses likewise). In air though it’d oxidize when the gas leaked out through the still hot tank shards. An expanding cloud of it catching fire would be akin to a daisy cutter bomb, consuming an enormous amount of air when it blows leaving behind a huge vacuum and causing an enormous implosion, after burning at about 800 C. This is not something you’d want to happen over Africa or Asia, which are the land areas under the last few orbits.

      The planned intercept is intended to make sure this all happens over water. The use of the SM-3 means that multiple attempts can be made. This missile is a Navy Terrier missile, standard munitions regularly launched from ships, but with an extra booster stage. Its use requires no major modifications, and the launch racks carry two per rack, with two or more racks per ship. The down side is that the SM-3 has a history of not actually hitting things that high. Thus the use of a potential multiple launch capability.

      Had the Smart Pebbles design from SDI actually been developed, it would have been a much better weapon for this purpose. It’d have been essentially a shot gun shell rather than a single kinetic warhead, giving it many and better chances of rupturing the tank. All it would take it one small hole prior to reentry to neutralize the potential dangers noted.

      No, I am not the brain specialist…..
      YES. Yes I AM the brain specialist.

      1. Pffftttt
        [quote]Had the Smart Pebbles design from SDI actually been developed…[/quote]

        Warmonger.

        😉

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        My apologies go out to all who were just offended by this hostile, confrontational and completely unreasonable post.

        1. Exactly
          ‘Had the smart pebbles design from the SDI actually been developed’, WWIII would have happened 10 years ago, and we wouldn’t need concerning ourselves with one puny little satellite, would we?

          Besides, I still remember the criticism Bush’s Missile shield received from several scientists, not because of its geopolitic consequences, but simply because it was based on flawed science.

          Let’s see what happens (I’m sure they are doing bets over this in Vegas).

          —–
          It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
          It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

          Red Pill Junkie

          1. My Prediction
            Hit or miss, the U.S. will come under criticism. Some people will always do what they can to keep the U.S. in a lose/lose position, both politically and in the court of public opinion.

            That’s where I’ll put my money.

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            My apologies go out to all who were just offended by this hostile, confrontational and completely unreasonable post.

          2. The cost
            That, Anonymous, is the cost of being the biggie.

            Reality, like time, is relative to the observer

            Anthony North

          3. Now, that hardly seems fair.
            Yeah, I know. Give us your money, but we hate you.

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            My apologies go out to all who were just offended by this hostile, confrontational and completely unreasonable post.

          4. Money
            Money? I can’t speak for others who have been hooked on mass-consumerism, but no thanks.

            I’m fanatical about moderation

            Anthony North

          5. Whatever the motivation…
            Hey, some what the cash, others are more interested in class warfare at the macro level.

            ————————————–
            My apologies go out to all who were just offended by this hostile, confrontational and completely unreasonable post.

          6. scientist criticism
            Well actually, the criticism by those scientists was more of the nature of “we don’t know how to do it, therefore it is impossible”.

            This stuff is not a science problem, it is just engineering. I know that I often equate those things.

            But as much as I often agree with you Red, the development (or bluff?) of SDI was precisely what prevented WW3.

            Apart from that, this is just a good opportunity to test things.

            Sure, the US will be blamed whether it works or not. By the usual suspects.

            —-
            If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.

            (Bill Clinton, and perhaps others)

          7. It’s ok to disagree earthling 🙂
            So are you saying that making the USSR think the US was going to build the SDI was the very same thing that brought the soviet regime to economic disintegration due to a spiralling arms race where they couldn’t keep up?

            But what would have happened to the US economy if the SDI (or a more watered version, like Bush’s current proposal) had been in fact developed?

            Maybe you’re right, maybe they never intended to build the damn thing in the first place…

            —–
            It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
            It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

            Red Pill Junkie

          8. well yes
            Yes, the US pol;icy was to make the USSR run out of money.

            It is similar to a car race – you push the other guy to go so fast that he runs out of gas. Or in an endurance race, if you have the more reliable car, and the other guy has the faster car – make him go fast until his car fails.

            This is a reliable and proven strategy. The Germans in WW2 were not really beaten on the battlefield. They just ran out of gas. Literally. They had better aircraft, better tanks. But they could not fly or drive those things.

            This is an old strategy, and if you can make it work, it is much more reliable than winning actual battles.

            What would happen if SDI actually was in place? Nothing would happen. SDI is purely defensive by nature. It would prevent other countries from attacking the US and its allies. As it is now, the US has second-strike capability, with their submarines. That prevents anyone small (read: other than Russia) from attacking the US.

            SDI would just prevent a first strike. Which is why Russia doesn’t like it – they want to be able to threaten the West.

            A point of perspective, so you may understand me better:

            I lived, for a long time, within less than 2 hours of driving distance of Russian tanks. And they had many many of those tanks. If they had decided to go at midnight, 20,000 of them could have passed my house before sunrise. Or driven through my house.

            A real capability. Intentions? I don’t know. A real threat? Definetely.

            So the perspective from Mexico is somewhat different than the perspective from Middle Europe, where I was at the time.

            —-
            If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.

            (Bill Clinton, and perhaps others)

          9. Very very interesting
            The problem is that both superpowers played this gambit for many years, with the whole world unwillingly included in the bet.

            And yes, our perspective from Mexico was that, in case of Nuclear conflagration, we would have been the first indirect casualties since we’re so close to the US (well, us and our canadian friends).

            I remember I was in grade school when I first saw the movie “The Day After”. It was truly shocking, and I’m sure it had the same effect with my whole generation. I remember making these drawings of atomic mushrooms fo art class (which, surprisingly, didn’t alert neither my parents nor my teachers that something was seriosuly wrong with me!)

            —–
            It’s not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me…
            It’s all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

            Red Pill Junkie

          10. Ah, the memories . . .
            [quote=red pill junkie]I remember making these drawings of atomic mushrooms fo art class (which, surprisingly, didn’t alert neither my parents nor my teachers that something was seriosuly wrong with me!)[/quote]

            Giving away my age with this, but I clearly remember the drills we did here in the States where we practiced taking cover beneath our school desks in case of nuclear attack.

            Sturdy desks in those days, apparently.

          11. Cold War
            Good morning everyone,
            To a certain extent, the Cold War WAS a game of bluff. But so was the politics at the run-up to World War One. Sometimes people call it.
            Germany running out of gas in World War Two isn’t the total picture, Earthling. They also ran out of soldiers (war of attrition). If this hadn’t happened, they’d just have got to places where they could get the gas.
            But most of all, a large chunk of the world said NO. Okay, it took a long time after Britain and the Commonwealth had said it, but that was what really won it.

            I’m fanatical about moderation

            Anthony North

          12. siege and bluff
            Yes indeed, Germany ran out of lots of things. Soldiers on the eastern front, that was the strategy of the Soviets. The strategy of the US was to make them run out of fuel. And everything else of course, like industrial production. But they ran out of fuel first, and that was the most reliable strategy. If you have everything except fuel, you are hosed. If you are out of fuel, you can’t go anywhere to get more fuel.

            Gorbachev had to say NO, because he ran out of money. The peace movement didn’t win the cold war – the Soviets lost, mostly by their own incompetence. The US during the Reagan administration saw this, and called their bluff.

            —-
            If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.

            (Bill Clinton, and perhaps others)

          13. Strategy
            I would amend one comment slightly, Earthling:

            ‘The strategy of the US was to make them run out of fuel.’

            This was the strategy of the ‘Allies’. Britain and the Commonwealth had quite a lot to do with it, you know.
            You’re right that the Soviets were spent out of existence. The peace movement, if anything, gave the Soviets hope that they would make western policy collapse.
            And this is maybe why we’ve got such a terrible version of capitalism today. It was devised as an economic ‘weapon’, and primed by think tanks from the 1940s onwards. But once it won, we forgot to switch the damned thing off.
            It’s now turning against us, turning a sensible philosophy of capitalism into a totalitarian system.

            I’m fanatical about moderation

            Anthony North

          14. drift
            Yes of course you are correct, the resources of Britain and the vast British Empire (this was before the Commonwealth, right?) at the time were instrumental in the attrition and siege strategy.

            As was the city of Detroit, where the allies produced so many (albeit substandard) tanks that the Germans could not keep up.

            All of this aside, my point was that you don’t need pitched battles to win. Not that this is a new insight.

            As usual the discussion has drifted far from the original point, and I’m one of the usual culprits 🙂

            So let us see if they really hit the failed satellite today.

            —-
            If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.

            (Bill Clinton, and perhaps others)

          15. Avoiding Pitched Battles
            Earthling, you said:

            ‘my point was that you don’t need pitched battles to win. Not that this is a new insight.’

            ‘ … for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.’

            Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’ circa 400BC

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