Wednesday, February 20, 2008

US prepare to shoot down satellite

An amateur satellite watcher's photo of US-193 in early February

The United States military are preparing to shoot down the ailing spy satellite which has been slowly descending towards Earth for the last few months. US-193 lost power soon after its launch in December 2006 but it still has sensitive equipment on board. Though it is believed the satellite may crash into North America, the US Military say they still aren’t sure exactly where. Nor can they say when. In early February the US military were guarded about the details of the satellite that was falling to Earth. "We're aware that this satellite is out there. We're aware it is a fairly substantial size. And we know there is at least some percentage that it could land on ground as opposed to in the water", Air Force General Gene Renuart, who heads US Northern Command, told reporters. The satellite is a approximately 4 metres long and 5 metres wide and was said to be falling at an estimated rate of 500 metres per day. At the beginning of February it was about 275 km above the Earth, but it will be difficult to assess where it might land until it passes through the atmosphere some 90 km above the surface [Sky News / BBC]. Although the chance of the redundant spy equipment landing on anybody was extremely remote, [BBC] the US military have decided to shoot it down. The United States plans to spend up to $60 million to try to destroy the satellite even though there is only a remote possibility the satellite could fall to Earth, survive re-entry and spew toxic hydrazine gas in a populated area, said James Jeffrey, deputy national security adviser. The cruiser USS Lake Erie will get one 10-second window each of the next nine or 10 days to fire an interceptor missile that will destroy the faltering spy satellite before it can tumble to Earth. The Chinese military destroyed an aging weather satellite last year, prompting questions about whether the United States is merely flexing its muscle to show an economic and military rival that it can destroy satellites, too. Jeffrey denied that when a reporter asked him about it this week. But the Chinese authorities have protested against the decision to blast the satellite down with missiles. This month the Chinese, along with the Russians, attempted to get a treaty signed to prevent the use of weapons in space. The proposed treaty was firmly rejected by the US. Weather has so far delayed any attempt to shoot down the 2.3 tonne satellite [CNN / Sky News / BBC]

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