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back to article US may shoot down spy sat to safeguard tech secrets

US defence officials are considering shooting down a rogue American spy satellite in order to prevent its top-secret technology falling into enemy hands, according to reports. Aviation Week revealed yesterday that Pentagon sources had confirmed the sat shootdown plans, though it is not yet certain that the US will put them into …

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Third hard-kill option...

... if the DoD were to ask nicely, perhaps the PLA might do it on their behalf.

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Go

"One answer might be to fire ......

.....one of the Missile Defence Agency's (MDA) Ground-Based Mid-course Interceptor rockets at the errant sky-spy."

Or they could ask those nice Chinese chappies (and chappesses) to do it for them with their proven anti-sat clobbering gizmo.

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Conspiracy theory :)

There could be more to this than they let on. I'd imagine any sensitive surveillance kit would not survive reentry to a degree that would make it vastly useful, though i'm sure some reverse engineering could be done.

But maybe just maybe they put something in the satelite they know the world would not really agree with ie weapons, and any evidence of such would go down very badly with the international community. Just a thought, you never know what these guys are up to.

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Silver badge

Soviet nuke sats

There *was* one serious incident; in 1978, Kosmos 954 re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and crashed into Northern Canada. 954 was a RORSAT which used a miniature nuclear reactor to power a large radar. At the end of its life it should have ejected the core into a high storage orbit, this didn't happen and a large chunk of enriched uranium and fission products ended up amongst God's Frozen People.

A number of people were exposed to radiation in excess of 1 Sievert (aka. 1 metric shit-load of radiation) and less than 1% of the core was ever recovered. Much of it probably burned up in the atmosphere, but there are almost certainly pieces still waiting to be discovered.

The RORSATs were in polar orbits which meant that they covered most of the surface of the Earth. We were very lucky Kosmos 954 didn't come down somewhere less barren. To give you an idea of the size of the contaminated area; had Kosmos 954 landed in the Gulf of Mexico, there would have been intensely radioactive particles stretching from the coast of Texas to Toronto.

Fortunately, there are no more of these nuclear-powered satellites left in low-Earth orbit.

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Black Helicopters

Probably...

costing more to make sure that no "security sensitive" parts fall into the 'wrong hands' (ie anyone except the US of A) than it cost to build the damn thing in the first place. What was that, it didn't cost anything? Ah, the good ol' "Black Budget".

(Are we actually allowed to use that term these days, or should we be using the term 'African American Budget' or 'IC3 Budget'. I'd hate to offend anyone, well, at least unintentionally!!)

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Everyone has his own nightmares

Lockheed for a failing kit...

US Army for secrets failures, but also for possible more failure trying to destroy it...

NASA for even more space debris if the sat is detroyed too high and some parts are sent back higher by the explosion...

CIA for all the coca-cola they will have to import in USA to re-subsidize those black accounts to pay for an other sat...

Ben Laden for taking no credit in this exploit...

And poor little me for laughing out about all of this, while the NSA's computers try to decide if this piece of internet's rant need some human time wasted on it...

Failing civilization maybe too ?

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Anonymous Coward

Black Money

Could someone define what that is exactly?

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Paris Hilton

What about.......

This sounds like a good way to test that big honking railgun they've just developed.........

Surely there should have been a contingency for this kind of scenario - If I was spending a few million dollars of a spy sat, I'd have some kind of automated self destruct built into the system - Even something as simple as a few pounds of explosive strapped to the outside so that it explodes during reentry.............

Paris - because she likes secret video cameras..........

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re: Third hard-kill option...

Slightly wrong... Just slightly...

... if the DoD were to ask nicely, perhaps the PLA will provide them with a competitive quote for an outsourcing contract to do it on their behalf.

There... Fixed it for you.

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Bronze badge

Seems plain to me

China has proven it can develop space weaponry even when the USA tells it that it won't be able to because the USA will do something to stop it. Now the USA needs to show China that it can do that too.

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Dead Vulture

Defense

Surely in the name of 'security' they could just incinerate and/or establish a "forward prescence" in every foreign country that stands the slightest chance of having the gear land on it? Should be a no-brainer for a country whose concept of defence is as skewed as its spelling of it.

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Pirate

Frickin Lasers!!

What about their new toys - Frickin Lasers? This could be an excuse to try those out... if they can get that 747 pointing in the right direction...

As to "Black Money"... that is illegitimate cash raised to do deniable "Black Ops". If the CIA raise the cash outside of "normal" government handouts, it is easier to deny the operation ever happened.

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Black Helicopters

Was this the plan all along?

I seem to remember that satellite killing weapons are generally frowned upon in the international community. At the very least conducting tests with them would cause quite a lot of work for the diplomats and risk damaging relations with China etc

So would it be paranoid to suggest that the US engineered this situation from the start? Maneuvering one of their obsolete or malfunctioning satellites into a deteriorating orbit in order to test a satellite busting weapon with the excuse of protecting state secrets and people on the ground?

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Paris Hilton

No self destruct button?

You've got a satellite costing a squillion dollars and someone forgets to install a little red button on the command console that instantaneously detonates the device, a la Under Siege 2. Where's Segal when you need him? :-)

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Flame

Zap it!

If it were one of my birds I'd zap it with my armed & fully operational airborne laser.

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Self destruct

.. somehow i don't think the americans or russians would put live explsves in space. it just reaks of James Bond, but then again these are the same people who want to build son of star wars

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Black Money

is the money spent on secret projects, that is never disclosed as part of the public budget numbers.

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Alien

Conspiracy theory 2

If Uncle Sam destroys the satelitte rendering it into a million bits, maybe that could happen in a patch of sky that Chinese rocket have to pass through on the way to orbit. Terribly sorry about that Beijing, it was an accident, honest. What's that one of your launch vehicals was just totaled by some debrie, my my.

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hurrah...

shoot it down and create more space junk? The Chinese anti-sat test was a disaster in creating more orbiting crap; now the US wants to add to it? Keep this up and anti-sat weapons will be redundant -- the space junk will kill everything up there anyway.

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Rail Gun!!!

Or is Bush afraid of being called a camper?

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Flame

GI Jane

"Demi Moore can win acceptance from the misogynist master chief"

I wondered what he was up to before the HALO franchise came along...

And I'll echo everyones sentiments about the self destruct, I'd have thought that would be standard fit on something who's landing on foreign soil could spark a full scale war.

I suppose maybe they're hoping it'll land in Iran, that'll give them the excuse they're looking for.

I'll get my coat

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Pirate

Don't be too proud...

... of this technological terror you have constructed. The ability to down Plausibly Deniable Instamagical Targets for your secret AINTI-satellite Defense System(tm) is insignificant to the Power of the Farce.

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Secrets of Trade

Haha

Looks to me Big Sam is a bit worried. 1st of, as mentioned above, they are lagging behind in terms of shooting sats as they were shooting man into space. So they staged the moon landing stuff. This time the WGA strike is over just on time to write a more believable scenario.

Plus they are scared of the sat's contents: a bunch of chips bearing the label "Made in China" and another bunch "Made in Taiwan" that means if the Chinese hackers were to find out they would be in a position to listen to anything those sats are spewing: mostly things about Giants vs. Patriots being rigged.

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Alert

Big Blast

Does anyone remember the story a few years ago about the US blasting a satellite out of the sky with a six foot wide beam?

They should use that, since they were going to put it into space during the Reagan era... Must work, then..!!

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Alien

Serioius Buisness!

If it's an advanced inteligence sat in low orbit, which they say it is, then it need s hell of a power plant to run, which they catagoricially refuse to admit is nuclear based.

They're not attempting to hide the optics or the radar gear which will be annihilated by re-entry but they're attempting to hide somthing else, somthing harder to destroy through re-entry. Any guesses as to what they maybe?

And this all presumes it's actually their sat and not some left over alien debris which they need a cover story for, lol.

It's nuclear, clearly.

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Don't understand how we're discussing this

This is a sooper sekrit satellite that nobody knew existed not even those who forked out for it. Why not just keep quiet until/if it did actually crash?

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Tom
Silver badge

That's not it...

They just don't want anyone to see that they put the battery in backwards.

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Boffin

Black Money...

is a recipriversexcluson.

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Jon

Self destruct

The whole reason that the problem exists is they never established comms with satalite so Seagull can't send a destruct signal.

Although either the low tech, strap dynamite to outside would be fine.

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Boffin

I'm surprised...

...Boeing haven't sold the idea to congress of mounting a massive baseball mitt on top of a 747 for several squllion dollar$.

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Coat

Who needs spies?

Who needs spies when we have people capable of such a penetrating analysis of situations in which they have no involvement as we have here at El Reg? And all based on a couple of newspaper stories (and, ok, a history of conspiracy theorising).

The Reg is usually good for a laugh but it's a bit spooky when you realise that some of these folks apparently take themselves seriously... and they are out there wandering around the same streets as you and I.

Eeek!

Mine is the camo jobby with the keys to my personal bunker in the pocket.

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re:self destruct

Good point that they can't actually contact the satellite; maybe their self destruct mechanism should be set to go off if, after 24 hours, a signal isn't received?

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Ok...

"Even something as simple as a few pounds of explosive strapped to the outside so that it explodes during reentry............."

You haven't set off many high explosives, have you? They have to be set off with a detonator that initiates a supersonic shock wave through the material. The heat from reentry would just cause it to burn. A friend of mine used to reheat MREs (or what ever they were call then) with small pieces of C4. It worked better than the sterno cans.

"If it's an advanced inteligence sat in low orbit, which they say it is, then it need s hell of a power plant to run, which they catagoricially refuse to admit is nuclear based."

So is this huge power requirement because it is an advanced sat or because it is in low earth orbit? Low earth orbit means they have to have a lot FUEL because the drag will cause them to slow down and they will have to boost the orbit a LOT more often than something like a GPS sat in their 12 hour orbit.

Current generation solar cells can easily (if not cheaply) provide all the power these birds need. It's not like they have the atmosphere to absorb energy from the sun before it hits the panel. The only reason you would need to a something like a thermic battery for power was if you were concerned about anti-sat technology and were trying to create a "stealth" spy sat that the "enemy" couldn't track. But the fact that it is an advance spy sat or the fact that it is low earth orbit doesn't really play into this much.

And for all the responses about self destructs, well, the bird isn't talking. Nor is it listening. That's the root of the problem. If they could talk to it, then maybe they COULD set off a self destruct. Of course, if they could talk to it, then they could have it maneuver into a high speed dive into the ocean so they would need a self destruct.

Of course, if they could talk to it in the first place, they wouldn't need to destroy it anyway.

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Paris Hilton

What's wrong with the shuttle?

They keep showing us all this footage of the shuttle capturing satelites, repairing them and putting them back into orbit so why don't they go up, attach the self destruct in orbit and blast it to smithereens?

On second thoughts, the shuttle isn't exactly reliable so perhaps it would be best to leave it up to the Chinese.

Paris because she gave me the idea of the shuttle!

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Misogynist Master Chiefs...

Such as Loyd Grossman?

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Nev
Black Helicopters

F15 ASAT

Obviously the Americans have a few experimental ASAT weapons for the F15 still left over that they want to use up before the use-by date....

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@Anti-sat clobbering gizmo

"Or they could ask those nice Chinese chappies (and chappesses) to do it for them with their proven anti-sat clobbering gizmo."

Actually, the US did this all the way back in 1984 with the ASM-135 anti-satellite missile, which can be launched from the air superiority F-15.

See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASM-135_ASAT

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Subcontract to China

Why not contract with China to blow up the satellite? They've demonstrated that that have the technique.

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Joke

From Futurama...

Christ, they can't get that good an aim in Iraq, what are the chances of them hitting a satelite? This outcome prophecized in Futurama seems much more likely.

Zapp Brannigan: [after destroying an alien mothership] Well, we destroyed the... what the hell is that?

Kif: It appears to be the mothership, sir.

Zapp Brannigan: Then what did we just blow up?

Kroker: The Hubble Telescope.

Failing that, miss everything and send a missile off into deep space, accidentally sparking an inter-galactic war - hopefully aka Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy where the invasion troops are swallowed by a dog or something. :-)

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Happy

Bring back the Boeing ASAT!

About the only thing Dimmy Carter got right was asking for the development of an anti-sat missile, and it was only the weenies at NASA complaining of space debris that stopped the program (oh, and the massive budget over-run!). As it stands, I think the ASM-135 still stands as the only successful aircraft-launched anti-sat shot ever (and that from a tiny ickle F-15 rather than a monster jumbo). I'm sure it would be a cheaper and surer option to dust off one of the old ASM-135s in storage and fly the old "Celestial Eagle" one more time, rather than try the flying laser jumbo.

Hey, let's jump on the conspiracy bandwagon - Boeing secretly crippled Lockheed's satellite in order to get their own ASAT program back up and running and make their competitor look bad! Now if only I could get the dingbat staples of Bushitler and Haliburton into the story somewhere it will be in the Washington Post and Guardian by tomorrow.....

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Silver badge

The Sin of Omission .....and AIMissions Unaccomplished by Cowboys

"Of course, if they could talk to it in the first place, they wouldn't need to destroy it anyway."

And it could always be disinformation. As we know, Uncle Sam likes to dabble in make Believe. It gives them a sense of being extraordinary.

Just a Shame about Imaginative Intelligence Bypass in the Programming though.

Just a thought, but they are turned on and tuned in to its Wavelengths? After all, mistaking kilometres for miles [or was it miles for kilometres] was an earlier booboo of theirs, was it not?

An easy mistake to make though.

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@ Bring back the Boeing ASAT!

Not Boeing... The ASM-135 was made right here at Lockheed Martin MFC in Dallas. LM bought Vought in the 90's.

It's probably not a conspiracy but it is definitely a great opportunity to test our ASAT capabilities.

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Re: What's wrong with the shuttle?

"What's wrong with the shuttle" is not that "the shuttle isn't exactly reliable" but that only half of it was ever built. Please see http://www.astronautix.com/lvfam/shuosals.htm and http://books.google.com/books?id=Te1HNZN6ah0C&pg=PA219&lpg=PA219&dq=%22space+shuttle%22+original+design&source=web&ots=8JBNHiA6np&sig=FTUOM_wUfh7kAjWvMD5vchRkOfo

Because the "fleet" has been reduced by two vehicles (both disasters being directly caused by the removal of the reusable lower section, and replacement with the SRBs and external fuel tank), there simply aren't enough flights left in the design life of the Shuttle to divert it for recovery of a malfunctioning military satellite.

I'm sure the military would very much prefer to get their bird back; it just can't be done, due to the US Congress choosing dollars over human life (14 dead astronauts saved how many billions of dollars? And cost how many more?).

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@james marley

"I'm surprised... Boeing haven't sold the idea to congress of mounting a massive baseball mitt on top of a 747 for several squllion dollar$."

Actually, NASA already did. That's how the US space shuttle got to be what it is.

The original design was for a smaller and cheaper shuttle. It was sorta, a space car. Limited cargo and only had to go into reasonable orbit. And it would be so efficient that it would go up and down within hours and take care of all small sats, making those old-style rockets obsolete. (The whole plan was that it would pay for itself by making _lots_ of trips.)

But NASA didn't have a budget for that. So someone figured they could get the Air Force's space budget for it.

The Air Force was using huge rockets to put those huge spy sats up there, and wanted them in a polar orbit too. NASA basically promised that they could make a huge shuttle, with a bay large enough to take one of those giant sats up there. And, to make it even more tempting, go up and bring it back in one piece if needed. Now that was something the Air Force couldn't do with those big rockets.

The shuttle had just become a monster truck instead.

Of course, NASA never lived up to their end of the bargain. And since it never could do all those lots of trips _and_ the cost of a trip went out of control too, it couldn't live up to the original promise either. So it's just left with an uber-expensive monstrosity that's more of a national penis size symbol than anything practical.

But, anyway, the Army (or rather, Air Force) were already sold something which should have been able to catch a spy sat and bring it down in one piece.

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Pirate

Freakin Lasers

The 'Freakin lasers' were the first option looked at by the DoD. Unfortunately, animal rights activists forced the lasers removal from the sharks heads and there is now not a viable platform to mount the lasers on.

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Unhappy

Killer DeathSat Aimed at Own Poplace!

So, reading between the lines of the article, the DeathSat will not only kill someone in the domestic US by crashing into their house at warp 7, but will then kill the rest of the family with a Plume of Doom.

And, if I read aright, the only plausible defense is for the military to hurl an intercontinental ballistic piano at it.

Somehow I just know this will end up being Hillary Clinton's fault.

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

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Alien

super sekrets

@Morely Dotes

What about the super sekret military shuttle that we are not supposed to know about? What's the point of having an asset that cannot be used?

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Silver badge

The shuttle is up at the moment

So why not fly over, pull out/smash the sensitive bits and let the rest reenter and burn?

If they could fit bifocals on Hubble, then surely it is no big deal to do a scrap metal collecting job (hacksaw, sledge hammer...).

We all know the shuttle hardly ever flies and is unreliable on a whole-project basis, but why not use it on one of those rare occasions when it is actually flying and there is a real use? If the shuttle can pull this off, then they'd be making some good PR for the next time they go beg for money.

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Alien

I'd like to see that!

Blowing up a satellite doesn't sound too easy. It's difficult to predict where the object might land or how much of it might survive re-entry. If the US has weapons that could take out such a fast moving and unpredictable target then this would be an ideal opportunity to try them out.

H.G. Wells suggested Martians might invade the our precious planet in this way. It would be nice to think those green bug-eyed blighters could be intercepted!

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Boffin

ASATs and lasers

I suspect that trying to destroy the satellite with anything like this might not actually work very well - all these things are designed to kill a complex/fragile satellite, but aren't intended to turn it into unidentifiable scrap.

Even the anti-missile systems wouldn't do much, again they'd intended to render a complex, fragile object non-functional, not vaporise it.

So you might break it up a bit, but it's debatable whether you'd achieve the aim of securing any technology that was onboard; I would imagine that you'd still end up with the same sort of debris on the ground, assuming there'd be anything worthwhile left anyway.

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