Something Isn’t Right In Space

So what the hell is going on? Why would we jeopardize our low Earth orbiting fleet (which doesn’t include most weather, communications and TV satellites, but does include the International Space Station, Space Shuttle, GPS, mapping and spy satellites) in an act we’ve already condemned when executed by others?

Back in January I wrote about the US spy satellite that will soon come crashing to the Earth. Sure, it’s got all sorts of scary chemistry (specifically hydrazine) on board, but there’s nothing to worry about, right?

Last week most of the experts were poo pooing the danger this satellite’s fiery reentry would bring. Satellites… even big satellites… come down all the time. That’s what they said until Thursday.

All of a sudden we want to shoot this school bus sized piece of space junk down. Shades of Bruce Willis!

From the Chicago Tribune:

Speaking to reporters, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , and James Jeffrey, the deputy national security adviser, said the Navy’s window of opportunity to strike the satellite before it enters the Earth’s atmosphere begins in the next three or four days. Cartwright said the window would likely remain open for seven or eight days.

If the satellite is not intercepted, it is expected to enter the atmosphere in late February or early March.

“This has no aerodynamic properties,” Cartwright said of the satellite. “Once it hits the atmosphere, it tumbles, it breaks apart. It is very unpredictable and next to impossible to engage. So what we’re trying to do here is catch it just prior to the last minute, so it’s absolutely low as possible, outside the atmosphere, so that the debris comes down as quickly as possible.”

A satellite is one lone object. Shoot it down and you get thousands, maybe tens of thousands of tiny objects, all unguided and some likely to remain in orbit for a long time. At orbital speed, even a small object with little mass is destructive.

Back in 1996, after the space shuttle had shifted its course to avoid a dead satellite, the New York times published this:

Dr. Donald J. Kessler, NASA’s senior scientist for orbital debris studies at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in an interview that space junk was a growing problem threatening the safety of spacecraft and astronauts. The Air Force tracks more than 7,000 pieces of debris larger than a baseball, including old rocket parts, outmoded satellites, discarded tools, remnants of explosions, and other odds and ends moving in orbit at more than 17,000 miles per hour. And researchers estimate there are more than 150,000 smaller objects that also pose a danger of collision.

“It’s common for space shuttles to show evidence of frequent hits, but nothing catastrophic has happened,” Dr. Kessler said. “We are now getting good international cooperation to control space debris, but it will continue to be a problem for a long time and we have to take precautions.”

Illustrating how real the problem is, Dr. Kessler said astronauts servicing the Hubble Space Telescope found a half-inch hole punched through its main antenna. And after a flight of the shuttle Columbia last October, engineers found a similar-sized crater in a cargo bay door caused by the impact of a tiny piece of solder, he said.

Here’s the operative sentence: “We are now getting good international cooperation to control space debris.” In other words, space debris is bad and everyone should stop creating it.

In fact, last January, after the Chinese blasted one of their own satellites out of orbit, the US Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said:

…the January 11 event created hundreds of pieces of large orbital debris, the majority of which will stay in orbit for more than 100 years. A much larger number of smaller, but still hazardous, pieces of debris were also created.

The United States is concerned about the increased risk to human spaceflight and space infrastructure as a result of this action, a risk that is shared by all space-faring nations. The United States and many other nations have satellites in space in conformity with international agreements that provide for their national security, and foreign policy and economic interests.

So what the hell is going on? Why would we jeopardize our low Earth orbiting fleet (which doesn’t include most weather, communications and TV satellites, but does include the International Space Station, Space Shuttle, GPS, mapping and spy satellites) in an act we’ve already condemned when executed by others?

Is there something that vile or that secret in this spy satellite? Are we looking for a little target practice to show everyone we’re every bit as capable as the Chinese? I don’t know.

My “educated amateur” space knowledge says, something doesn’t seem right… something doesn’t smell right… something doesn’t add up.

There are missing pieces to this story I neither possess nor understand. I sure hope someone else does, and they are free to speak.

9 thoughts on “Something Isn’t Right In Space”

  1. I agree Geoff. When I first read they want to shoot the bird down with an SM3 I thought, whoa! space junk!

    I’m surprised that an SM3 has the range or the capability to be upgraded to have the range to knock something out in low earth orbit.

    I do think there are ulterior motives here. As you pointed out, there must be something on that bird they don’t want to get out. Also, what a great chance to test out a piece of “Star Wars”. This could be a great excuse to test anti-missile defense.

  2. From the AP

    I think this may be the problem:

    “Known by its military designation US 193, the satellite was launched in December 2006. It lost power and its central computer failed almost immediately afterward, leaving it uncontrollable. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor.”

  3. What a good time to try shooting down something in space. We’ve been working on this for years and have modified some of the Aegis destroyers to track and negate ICBM’s. Practice practice practice.

  4. I think it’s because they don’t want this to fall in to the hand of the Soveit…oops…I mean Iran.

    Though, this could be part show of force to Putin over there in Russia. I heard he’s not to keen on Ukraine joining NATO and our stationing of missiles there.

  5. At first it wasn’t any concern, it would just burn up on re-entry. That point was immediately disputed. Now a few weeks later, we need to shoot it down. Someone out there doesn’t want to give us all the facts. The defense dept. has been and is still in meetings regarding this. This story is ‘growing legs’.

  6. So far, not one of you has bought into the military explanation… which was undoubtedly vetted for believability, if it didn’t already have truthfulness (it might).

    A real investigative journalist, with contacts, knowledge and a legitimate forum (not me on my little blog), needs to look at this.


  7. You might be interested in this Wired blog thread, which is asking the exact same questions and links to some very interesting things.

    My vote is that a.) there is something on that satellite the US military doesn’t want falling into the wrong hands, and b.) the current Administration sees this as an excellent opportunity for “star wars” target practice, and as a way to raise a big red flag in China’s direction. Either way, it’s a very, very fishy situation.

  8. I really don’t care what the ulterior motive is. I just don’t want thousands of pieces of deadly space junk introduced into low Earth orbit.

  9. what would happen if there would be a national desaster, that would put the elections on hold for a bit? and who is leading in the elections may tell us finally if this object will harm us or not… and it looks like we may know the answer soon.. from canada, in the path of possible national desaster.. pray for us All, and I you..Please!

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