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back to article US military prepares for plummeting spy satellite

The US military is putting into effect contingency plans to deal with the possibility that a large spy satellite expected to fall to Earth in late February or early March could actually hit North America. Exactly what these contingency plans consist of is not clear at this stage - we thought perhaps a giant baseball mitt. But …

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Anonymous Coward

"Dirty bomb"?

So, these hazardous materials it's carrying, do they include plutonium (as a power source)?

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"a crash could put the secrets of the satellite at risk"

Yep, it would be a real disaster if foreign powers got their hands on the top secret U.S. "fail on deployment" technology.

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Happy

What goes up must come down

Send for Superman - another American invention LOL.

So much for global protection - what happened to all these so called missiles that are supposed to protect America - do they only work if they are fired at items not stamped "Made in America" ?

Be scared - be very scared - it's almost funny if it was not so damn dangerous.

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JP
Black Helicopters

Accidental "hit"

Is this going to "accidentally" take out a Middle Eastern or Chinese embassy somewhere in NA? Testing new payload-delivery methods. (Esp if using a nuclear "power source" as mentioned above!)

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Re "Dirty bomb"?

It's very unlikely that it will carry plutonium. It was in Earth orbit, so it could have used solar panels to generate power. Plutonium is usually only needed for spacecraft such as Cassini, which have to operate much further from the Sun, where solar panels would need to be unfeasibly large to gather enough energy.

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Black Helicopters

am I just paranoid or..

am I just paranoid?

Let's say, FOR EXAMPLE (as in Hypothetically speaking) a government wanted to give a black eye to another government without instigating WW3.

Ooh, one of our satellites is going to crash. Hmm, it might have a nuclear power cell which could destroy a few square miles and it might land in our back yard, but it could land anywhere really.

Sorry about that.

Oops.

Who said 9/11?

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Happy

No plutonium

The so-called hazardous material is merely hydrazine.

BTW, the Russians, who are fond of putting full blow nuclear reactors on satellites, had one of those reactors crash in Canada. On January 24, 1978, the Russian Cosmos 954 reentered over Canada, with debris hitting the ground in frozen and scarcely populated areas in Canadian Arctic. They also had a nuclear reactor satellite, Cosmos 1402, fall uncontrolled January 23, 1983. Even when the Russians de-orbit one of their nuclear reactor powered satellites in a controlled fashion, they still have the reactor vaporize on reentry and spread nuclear contamination in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The US has never put a nuclear reactor into space. For deep space probes where the solar intensity is too poor to use solar power, the US uses radionuclide decay powered thermoelectric generators. (And yes, for those plutonium is a favorite choice.) For Earth orbit satellites, the US (and ESA) use solar power.

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@ Fred

Just a number of things you could gain from a downed satellite. Not sure what the 'fail on deployment' is but here is a quick list.

1) Encrytion keys for existing comms or certainly the format, layout and rough method.

2) Capabilities

3) Comparison on power sources, quality of parts, reslience and structure.

You have to keep in mind that each country builds its military satellite 'blind' because you don't share that data with anyone (not even 'allies') so any insight into what others do would be priceless.

Even if you don't get much this would be major coup to get your hands on any of it, even if just for PR.

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Happy

Oh, my aching sides

"...a worldwide network of hobbyists who track satellites for recreation..."

I'm wiping the tears from my eyes. Thank you for that laugh, you've brightened my mid-week.

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Tim
Paris Hilton

Talk about a failed project

So this thing is *new*?! I thought it was some 30 year old cold war relic. Bloody hell. I can't imagine a better metaphor for government tech projects: A huge meteor flashing through a polluted sky, its message of catastrophic failure writ in letters of fire a mile high, pissing debris, cancer and wasted tax dollars across the entire nation.

PH because to her it'll signify the fury of her ancestors. I bet she sacrifices that poor dog/rat to appease the sky god.

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Bronze badge

Ask the Chinese...

With their already demonstrated satellite-killing capability, why not just ask the Chinese to shoot it down?

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Alert

Yikes! Too close for comfort...

... because I work only a few blocks away from that building in the picture! "Shut her down, Clancy, she's pumping mud!"

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Anonymous Coward

Deserves them right

Deserves them right if it hits North America. Im pretty certain they would not have cared if it landed in another part of the globe. Other than ensure The Men in Black turn up to collect the bits.

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Coat

Young whippersnappers

"According to Pike, the satellite carries a new generation of spy equipment, able to provide round-the-clock intelligence."

Did the old ones need a snooze every now and then? See what happens when you work too hard... burnout.

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Time to round up the cowboys!

Call Clint Eastwood and the rest of the gang; after all, they design this baby, they're the only ones who can fix it before it crashes, no?

We're also not supposed to know that its an old, cold-war era orbitting missile launching installation, but I think the cat's out of the bag now.

-dZ.

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Alien

No, ...

... you're just paranoid. If this had been a plan, they would have made *sure* it landed on the enemy, but it's not: it's going to land on them.

Unless of course their plan is for it to radioactively trash a few square miles of the USA, recover it and then "discover" that the reason it fell out of the sky was owing to something China did....

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Boffin

Dirty... filthy... that's nasty

If I remember rightly, the hazardous materials they're worried about is the left over guidance jet's fuel - hydrazine (I think?)

Whether it's true or not, I guess we'll never know!

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Black Helicopters

Be honest

Anything you know about what powers a satellite won't be accurate. Apollo had plutonium batteries, not full reactors which wasn't a deep space probe and it came back.

Although solar is the norm now, it doen's mean there isn't a back up power source as this is a 24 hours military satellite which by it's nature isn't in the sun all the time.

Anyone thinks the US military is honest isn't really holding their full rack of marbles.

China and America have anti satellite missiles, dare say israel, japan, europe and russia have them. (Through purchase) and there is also the anti missile laser covered by the guardian a few years back.

...and for those conspiracy theorists the shuttle camera that was released that films behind the shuttle showing the laser beam coming from earth at the UFO trailing the shuttle (with the added sound of houston telling the astronauts to be silent as the world was listening to them) Remember the BBC program that showed it?

It's all PR and all smoke and mirrors at the end of the day.

I do wonder if America would put the effort into protecting Europeans from their problem, it only takes action when North american soil is in danger.

Call me a cynic.

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Coat

Ebay

Hmm how long till,

US Spy Satellite: Condition: Used: Starting Bid:99p appears up on ebay?

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Anonymous Coward

RE:Deserves them right

1. I think you meant 'Serves them right'.

2. Amazing how bitter and vindictive some folks are.

Consider yourself a good person, do you?

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Stete the obvious

"We know there is at least some percentage that it could land on ground as opposed to in the water."

I wish I was clever enough to make statements like that.

They don't know where it will land. Therefore it will either end up in water or on land. The world has xx% water (any number of people know the xx% except me). Could it be that the "some percentage" is xx%?

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Black Helicopters

@Accidental "hit"

Is North Korea ready to take evasive action?

Or perhaps they just want to assasinate Musharraf in Pakistan?

Or maybe they have some general idea of the Osama's cave complex, and Bush wants a vicotory in the WoT?

Or Castro, or Chavez...

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Silver badge

Superman is Canadian

Superman is actually Canadian, not American as stated above.

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Pirate

Skylab?

Why not just let it drop on Australia like they did with Skylab! If they chose the same spot again they would get away with only a fine of around $1150.

Assuming of course that you only add inflation to the same fine they paid for Skylab.

If it does indeed have anything radioactive then they only have to overshoot a few hundred km's and drop it where the British dropped their A-Bombs. Nobody will ask them to clean it up then.

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Coat

@Sordid Details

What's so funny? I don't know if it is a "network", but there are thousands of amatures around the world that track satellites with nothing more amazing than optical telescopes.

http://www.heavens-above.com/

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John Pike

One must remember that John Pike used to be the mouthpiece for FAS, an outfit with a political view just to the left of Lenin.

He's no friend of the US military -- or, for that matter, any military.

Keep the salt handy when you read his words.

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Coat

Calling Doctor Goodwin,

Ohh this is just like Alistair McLeans Ice Station Zebra. It will land short in the Arctic and their will be a mad dash between the USA and USSR to get to the microfilm capsule, stuffed with military secrets, that has survived re-entry.

Can I be the British operative that saves the Yankie bacon whilst averting a face off with the Ruskies? And I want to command the submarine that gets them their.

Is that asking too much?

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Spy secrets?

I don't know much about spacecraft, but surely a) the thing won't be heat-protected like the shuttle and so will fry on entry? Even if it doesn't completely burn up it'll probably damage irrevocably a lot of the electronic, and b) Be completely smashed to shit upon landing? Oh, and c) Be made useless by water if it falls into the ocean.

If I have to replace a laptop after dropping it 5 feet and killing it, I can't see how something falling through the atmosphere and then smashing into the ground at terminal velocity all the way from space is going to be much use to anyone.

I'd be more worried about where it's going to land.

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Paris Hilton

Satellite watchers?

Get the BOFH on this one - he hates trainspotters so just think of how he'd react to Satellite Spotting.

I'd be very surprised if this satellite was to land in Europe or somewhere that the US would give a damn. Only the chance of it crashing into The Pride Of The World spurrs them into action. As for recovering anything, it might be kinda mangled so I wouldn't think there'd be too much left to recover from the big smoking hole in the ground (33%) or the water (66%) - can there be a smoking hole in the water???

Just shoot the bloody thing down. You're telling me a Stealth Bomber can't get up to 60-odd thousand feet and launch a low yield nuke at it or something?

Superman is Canadian?????? Well I guess that's why he wears his underpants on the outside, eh? What's that aboot then?

What would Billy Ray Thornton and Bruce Willis do now... or Liv Tyler (well I'd do Liv Tyler but that's another story).

Paris Hilton because... well she looks good, it's only when she talks the trouble starts. So I guess there's only one thing left to do with her mouth.

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Thumb Up

Suggested landing point

"able to provide round-the-clock intelligence."

If that's true, we really, really *need* it to land on the White House, so that the First Chimp will have a shot at making a speech without looking like the missing idiot from a Texas village.

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Happy

The sea is not compleatly "empty"

So lets hope it does not hit one of the bigger oil tankers.

As a yachsman it annoys me "slightly" that the sea is considered compleatly safe for dumpping any size of space rubbish. Perhaps the reason is that there probably will be no evidence left of an accident.

About Superman:

Superman is a fictional character, a comic book superhero widely considered to be one of the most famous and popular such characters and an American cultural icon. Created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster in 1932 while both were living in Cleveland, Ohio, and sold to Detective Comics, Inc. in 1938,

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Paris Hilton

Bah!

The most stupid part of this is that they didn't actually design the satellite to burn up properly. Ask any reader of spy novels and comic books: First rule of secrecy/spy work is to be able to destroy your secrets: cyanide capsules, write on rice paper so you can swallow it etc. Some creative thought involving explosives and a temperature sensor would have been a good idea.

I doubt very much that you could get useful encryption keys or any such off this beastie. Those won't be written on a label like a MAC address on a router or on a bit of paper stuck inside the service door. About the only thing you could get that would be interesting is knowledge of the capability level and perhaps some stuff like optics etc.

The US are terrified of crashing these things on own soil and damaging an SUV or giving someone split ends. They also don't want to crash in Asia (they'll copy the satellite, except make em smaller and in three diferent colours) or Europe (damn commies). That's why they control-crash most of their stuff here in the Southern Hemisphere with lots more water and only a few of us sheep/goat worriers who aren't the complaining type. If Skylab is anything to go by, then most people would welcome the satellite. The Skylab finder made quite a bundle and they had it as a prop on Miss Universe.

I haven't checked but is the next Miss Universe soon? [PH coz she'd know]

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@M Burns

Actually America has orbited one nuclear reactor - the SNAP 10 in 1965 which was injected into a low polar orbit for 43 days before an unrelated failure caused the automatic ejection of the core into a higher storage orbit.

The US abandoned nuclear reactors on satellites fairly early as it perfected efficient solar cells for its reconnaissance satellites. They could put their satellites further out where solar arrays were less prone to atmospheric drag and make up for the greater distance with superior optics.

They continued with radioisotope generators (RTGs) on missions to the Moon (to get round the 14 day Lunar nights) and outer planets; but it's worth remembering that two American RTGs been lost when coming back to Earth...

In 1964 an RTG was launched on the unsuccessful Transit 5BN mission. The RTG burned up over Mozambique releasing something like 50,000 curies (1 metric shed-load) of plutonium 238 into the atmosphere. This led to a change in American RTGs to use ceramic plutonium and graphite construction. Which was handy when Odyssey, the Apollo 13 Lunar Module (which was meant to be left on the Moon) came back to Earth and burned up in the atmosphere. NASA deliberately steered the craft into the Tonga Trench in case its RTG leaked. Later surveys found no sign of contamination.

The Soviets not only continued using nuclear reactors in their radar satellites, their radars and solar cells were relatively poor requiring very low orbits where atmospheric drag would have brought a solar-powered craft back to Earth presto pronto, but they also used polonium 210 to heat some of their lunar missions. IIRC one of their Lunokhod missions never made it out of Earth orbit and eventually burned up along with its exciting cargo.

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Dead Vulture

@ thomas k

Why not ask the Chinese to shoot it down?

Answer: it's probably meant for them.

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Dead Vulture

"Your payload of Fail will be arriving shortly"

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Happy

Poetic justice

Wouldn't it be just perfect if this one started to line up for a quick visit to the off-white house up in penny avenue?

//Svein

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Coat

@Paul re: Stete the obvious

" They don't know where it will land. Therefore it will either end up in water or on land. "

Well, it could end up in-between. Assuming it lands somewhere in the vicinity of Scarborough fair, that is.

Yes, that's my coat. The cambric one on the peg over there, smelling of mixed herbs.

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Anonymous Coward

Intended target.............?

It's not really an out-of-control satellite; its a precisely-aimed one that may coincidentaly land on an Iranian Uranium production facility.

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Tim

Sounds like there's more to it

Satelite the size of a bus that won't burn up in the atmosphere....thats a hell of a camera. I'm not claiming to have built any spy satelites myself but if you're going to build it as big as a bus you might aswell fit it with backup engines.

And why doesn't it have some form of self destruct, wouldn't take much more than just opening it's case as it came in the atmosphere.

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Flame

stupidist thing i've read on this site

"Although solar is the norm now, it doen's mean there isn't a back up power source as this is a 24 hours military satellite which by it's nature isn't in the sun all the time."

yeah because all geostationary satelites go offline overnight don't they. can't wait till summer when sky can broadcast past 5.30pm in the evening...

psst if you don't get sarcasm, they've got batteries that are charged in the sun.

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Black Helicopters

Satellite crash in Peru ?

The satellite that came down recently in Peru was rumoured to contain a radioactive isotope (Pu-238 ?), and the mysterious "gas" from the crater as reported in "normal" media that left visitors to the scene feeling ill was actually radiation poisoning.

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Anonymous Coward

@ M burns

“The so-called hazardous material is merely hydrazine.”

You are a fucking idiot. Hydrazine is HIGHLY biologically hazardous to anything alive that comes in contact with it. Go have a paddle in it, Admittedly, most of it will vapourise on re-entry but what if a tank of it comes down in a populous area?

“The US has never put a nuclear reactor into space. For deep space probes where the solar intensity is too poor to use solar power, the US uses radionuclide decay powered thermoelectric generators. (And yes, for those plutonium is a favorite choice.)”

Officially. There are in fact several probes (both military and civillian) now carrying plutonium thermocouple reactors.

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Alien

But then again

But then again like all past NORAD crash projections of falling satellites even though aiming to dump it on Canada it will miss by several thousand kilometres to hit some island like Iceland , Bermuda or even the remote Azores !

Let the fun continue !

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Flame

Doh!

Can this be considered a "Friendly Fire" incident?

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Boffin

@ Mike Richards

The US abandoned nuclear reactors on satellites fairly early as it perfected efficient solar cells for its reconnaissance satellites. They could put their satellites further out where solar arrays were less prone to atmospheric drag and make up for the greater distance with superior optics.

These things are as big a buses because of all the fuel they carry. It's either that or plutonium firing helium discharges.

The fuel is for overcoming gravity anomalies and friction. They use tiny amounts of fuel to correct the orbit or to change it to suit a topical event.

Having failed to locate it properly they probably used up most of the fuel intended for minor orbital correction on getting its error corrected. Or tried to.

Larger or more modern solar panels will only have served to cut size and weight. Most of the 24/7 ability would have come from rechargeable batteries. Early varieties built up a problem locking into a poor charge cycle due to the regularity at which they were drained and charged.

That problem gave rise to the idea that power packs on earth need to be fully drained before they are recharged.

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Paris Hilton

It's locic, innit?

"They don't know where it will land. Therefore it will either end up in water or on land. "

Not nessesarily. It could wind up on an ice shelf, or in a volcano. A nice symmetry there - one is water that is solid, and the other is land that is liquid.

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No Nukes

They use solar power.

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Ian

Nice

"We know there is at least some percentage that it could land on ground as opposed to in the water."

Roughly around the same percentage of land to water covering the surface of the earth maybe?

Oh and I like how they have contingency plans IF it hits North America, does that mean they don't really care if it takes my house out?

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Thumb Down

Superman - American or Candian?

He was neither solely an American or Canadian creation - In fact, Superman (Kal-El) was created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster in 1932. He is of course not from either of these countries, but the last son of the planet Krypton and biological son of Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van.

Where is he when we need him though? Man of steel my arse!

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Happy

Risk

"some percentage that it could land on ground as opposed to in the water"

Well, you can tell he's an expert. No wonder they need(ed) something to provide round-the-clock intelligence...

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