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 …

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  1. lee harvey osmond

    Third hard-kill option...

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

  2. Pete mcQuail
    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.

  3. Michael Compton

    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.

  4. Mike Richards 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.

  5. dervheid
    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!!)

  6. greg

    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 ?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Black Money

    Could someone define what that is exactly?

  8. Shaun
    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..........

  9. Anton Ivanov

    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.

  10. Mycho Silver 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.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    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?

  14. Phil Rigby
    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? :-)

  15. The elephant in the room
    Flame

    Zap it!

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

  16. Michael Jolly

    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

  17. Fred Bauer

    Black Money

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

  18. Joe Stalin
    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.

  19. Paul Kinsler

    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.

  20. Mark

    Rail Gun!!!

    Or is Bush afraid of being called a camper?

  21. Daniel Wilkie
    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

  22. WhatWasThat?
    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.

  23. Mr B

    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.

  24. k0rrupt10n
    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..!!

  25. Vostran
    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.

  26. Joe Harrison Silver badge

    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?

  27. Tom Silver badge

    That's not it...

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

  28. Steven Knox
    Boffin

    Black Money...

    is a recipriversexcluson.

  29. 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.

  30. james marley
    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$.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  32. Louis Cowan

    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?

  33. RRRoamer

    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.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    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!

  35. Jamie Kitson

    Misogynist Master Chiefs...

    Such as Loyd Grossman?

  36. Nev Silver badge
    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....

  37. Joe Cooper

    @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

  38. Craig Milo Rogers

    Subcontract to China

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

  39. Ross Fleming
    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. :-)

  40. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    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.....

  41. amanfromMars 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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  43. Morely Dotes

    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?).

  44. Hans Mustermann

    @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.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  46. Steve Mann
    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

  47. Nomen Publicus
    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?

  48. Charles Manning

    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.

  49. Richard Scratcher
    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!

  50. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  51. Dom

    Point of impact

    "the fact they are apparently being seriously considered strongly suggests the rogue sat is on course to come down somewhere unfortunate" - nobody's got a scoobie where it's going to come down. Nobody.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Littering Penalty !

    They are afraid of being fined.

    The 78-tonne US space station's crash to earth in 1979 spread debris across the south of Western Australia. The Shire of Esperance slapped the US Government with a $400 fine for littering.

    Obviously, the fine would have gone up since then.

    Mine's the Council Rangers Jacket.

  53. Hans Mustermann
    Alien

    @Charles Manning

    The question is in what orbit is the Shuttle right now. Going from an equatorial orbit to a polar one would require a _lot_ of fuel. You pretty much have to lose _all_ the speed in one plane, and gain it all in a different one. Which, if done like that, would pretty much mean twice the huge external tank worth of fuel. Of course, it physically couldn't be done like that, there's be some maneuvering instead to change the orbit's plane while still maintaining enough speed to stay up. How much of a difference that makes, well, I don't know, but at a gut feeling I still don't expect the shuttle to have that kind of fuel without coming down and going back up.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    @Charles Manning

    > RE: The shuttle is up at the moment

    > So why not fly over,

    Well - the shuttle/International Space Station combination is in an equatorial orbit.

    It has been stated in this story that the inert satellite is in a polar orbit.

    You do not make right (or left) turns and just 'fly over' when in earth orbit. The shuttle may have enough propellant on board to change orbital inclination by perhaps a degree or maybe two before it runs out. Nowhere near enough of the delta-v it would take to move the orbit by about 90 degrees of inclination (a change of at least ten kilometers per second). To do that and link up with orbiting space junk at an unknown altitude might take more energy than the shuttle had on board when it was sitting on the pad before launch.

    And that's physics...

  55. Andy Worth

    re:Zap it!

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

    Would that be one of preparations A to G, or indeed preparation H?

    *holds little finger to corner of mouth*

    muahahahaha!

  56. heystoopid
    Paris Hilton

    Or how soon we forget

    Or how soon we forget that a 1 gram flake of paint almost went through the windshield of one space shuttle !

    However since this satellite they have lost is a very expensive Lacrosse which was launched some two years ago and has both a rather solid radar Antenna and very substantial solid camera house bay along with the other usual bits of radioactive polonium heaters for the sensitive electronics and numerous other classified bits some of which you can even buy at Akihabara in Tokyo(well unfortunately most people don't realise that over 50% of the on board electronics in a Tomahawk cruise missile are made in Japan but that be another tale)

    Now if you shoot things down below the Karman line you have a useful combination of air friction and gravity to reduce the velocity and cause the broken pieces of the object to impact on the ground below IE Newtons laws of active and reactive forces .

    Sadly above the Karman Line which defines the upper measurable limit of the earth's atmosphere another one of Newton's law of motion comes into play where an object continues to remain in motion until forces act upon it !

    Now it is a given the merkins do have a number of old ASAT missiles which could be bolted onto the old F15A for mid air launch! The negative is the pilot has to fly the aircraft with virtually full afterburner engaged all the way so it only has go juice for less then thirty minutes before all tanks are dry as a bone , never mind the fact both engines are scrap metal after that level of punishment ! Now SM3's block 3 & 4 as fitted to Aegis Class Cruisers could do the job but would have critical placement for correct acquisition and shoot down to be effective !

    Thus using an ASAT to kill a tumbling out of control bus size object above the 63 mile limit to reduce the level a contaminated and poisoned orbit shrapnel a megaton nuke would vaporise it nicely but the EMP from such a blast is a real killer with a 1300K radius(see Starfish Prime ,as all modern computers , cars , planes would turn up their toes and die , phone lines melt , power stations burn down and so on) . Now if using a conventional high explosive weapon even a direct hit the Lacrosse will break up into numerous big and small pieces and the resulting shrapnel will spray in an uneven three dimensional pattern(explosives going bang do funny things an one can count on one hand the number of explosive experts knowledge of detonation effects in small gravity fields which is zero outside a computer simulator) thus you have multiple poisoned orbits of bits of small and large chunks of metal in eccentric strange orbits indeed some may even reach out punch straight through holes in the ISS space station !

    Oh well in merkin land "duck and cover" won't do you much good , so the shooting window is very tight indeed , I would guesstimate that it has be less then thirty miles up to be effective in reducing to bite size chunks for it to remain in the earth's atmosphere for air friction to do the job !

    Given NORAD has an average public track record of being about two to three thousand miles short of target , best of luck at shooting fish in a barrel for that one !

    Paris because she more brains then most senior merkin military officers put together in one conference room !

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    RE: ASATs and lasers

    "So you might break it up a bit"

    Probably enough - re-entry would do the rest. Smaller objects are less likely to survive that

  58. Vic
    Coat

    South Africa needs another power plant

    So I reckon I'll just put a massive magnet thing near that big telescope thing, drag it down here, nick that big nuke core someone was talking about and my personal energy crisis will be solved. The rest of you can stop speculating now, you're doing your heads in.

    I might need a big lead and other things box to put it in if I'm going to keep it in my back yard though...problem is there's no bloody electricity to run the mines and smelters and factories needed to process that kind of stuff.

    There goes another bloody good idea.

    Maybe that lead-lined coat there on that hanger would be good to nick as well.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear option = unlikely

    For the life of me I can't see the US ever contemplating using a nuclear weapon to shoot this satellite down. For one thing they might unintentionally start World War III - much more minor events have almost triggered retaliation before.

    Apart from the obvious problems noted above, the heat and light from a nuclear weapon are so sudden and so short-lived you would have to track a falling weapon with uncanny accuracy and be able to deploy a nuclear device so quickly and find its way to target with a speed that really doesn't exist. Even with a megaton device its kill range to guarantee the destruction of an object is probably limited to a radius of about three miles. At high altitude fall-out would be quite small but EMP would be catastrophic as someone had already noted the 1962 nuclear test "Starfish Prime" demonstrated the kill range of such a weapon.

    I think what's more likely if the US is unable to shoot this satellite down conventionally or they think it will land on unfriendly territory they will send in a recovery team, I don't think anyone should believe at this level the US will shy away from recovering it or destroying in in situ.

    Given the size of the Earth's oceans it's much more likely it will fall into the sea than impact on land - I think this would be everyone's preferred option.

  60. drunk.smile
    Joke

    Ebay

    I'm surprised noone has mentioned Ebay yet.

    Regardless of whether the satellite comes down in the US or China someone is still going to get to it first flog it for a starting bid of only 99p. (P&P not included)

    Can the US not save money and just wait till they can buy it back?

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    ASM-135 ASAT

    The ASM-135 uses a lump of metal (14kg?) designed to disable a satalite by punching a hole in it (at 15K mph?), not to destroy its secrets, debris still has chips, with software, encryption keys etc. it may even still come down as one lump! albeit a donught!

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Re: RE: ASATs and lasers

    "Probably enough - re-entry would do the rest. Smaller objects are less likely to survive that" actually smaller objects deccelerate faster due to less momentum. (think pea verses brick, and think of the atmosphere as your car windscreen.) its the bigger ones that have large kinetic energy, which is converted to heat.

    Anyway we are only dealing with the relativly low speed of orbit, not the usual shooting star astroid speeds.

    Re "it's much more likely it will fall into the sea" yes thats what those nations with subs are hoping, especially those who demonstrate there skills by placing flags on the sea bed... retrieving a few chips with software & enc. keys would be useful...

  63. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Joke

    RE: ASM-135 ASAT

    14Kg at 15000 mph means a LOT of terminal energy! Just go to Google and look for pics of Iraqi T-62s hit by APDS rounds, effectively sharp lumps of depleted uranium hitting the target at about three-thousand mph, which usually destroyed the tank due to extreme tempretures generated by the impact setting off the stored ammo and fuel. I have seen footage of APDS tests where you can see the metal in the area around a hit glowing white-hot! Even if the sat's stored hydrazine fuel didn't explode and fry the remains, the shock of the impact would shatter most of the components if they weren't fried by the initial wave of kinetic energy converted into heat by the impact alone. When they tested the ASAT on a satellite they found the debris was coated in soot from all the onboard plastics being burnt up by the impact. I'd say the ASAT would render any components just about toast!

    Of course, I'd love to see a solution where the ASAT was fitted with a large lump of BluTack on the nose, flew up to the errant sat and attached itself, then drove it on upwards into a safe orbit or towards deep space. BluSAT, anyone?

  64. TrishaD

    The Answer's Obvious

    Send for Bruce Willis....

    Why havnt they done it already?

    (negociating with his agent, probably.....)

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Black money

    Isn't that what you get peddling crack on the corner outside the barber shop?

  66. MD Rackham

    Not all water

    Remember it's in polar orbit, so there are some tracks (North/South America, Africa/Europe/Asia) where it's over land almost all the time. Equatorial orbits are the ones that are mostly water, all the time. (Of course, some polar tracks are all water, except for Antarctica.)

    And things don't burn up quite as much as one would think. Both the large bits and the small light bits survive quite nicely. Remember that the poor astronauts bodies survived (more-or-less) intact from the Columbia breakup, and that worms that were part of an on-board experiment actually survived the uncontrolled re-entry.

  67. James Smith
    Black Helicopters

    Re: Big Blast

    I do remember a ground based laser system for shooting down satellites. I liked the way it was mounted on a fast moving anti-aircraft style mounting. Just what you need for shooting down fast moving low altitude targets like... erm... satellites.

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @AC 14:45

    "its the bigger ones that have large kinetic energy"

    Doesn't matter if it's one big object or if it has been smashed into 100 small ones, the total mass is the same and so is the total kinetic energy. If the small ones decelerate faster it is because the energy is being removed faster, and so they'll get hotter.

  69. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    C'mon, let the chinese have it

    Then next Xmas our new toys will have the niftiest li'l features like synthetic-aperture radar and super-encrypted multi-band long-range communication, not to mention their very own miniature nukulear reactors. I can't wait!

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thats not the worry

    They now noticed ppl dont buy into all the u will die hype if u look at the spy sat, I bet the first bloke who finds it in his back yard will have it on ebay in 10min from inpact for min bet of 1mil

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Laser

    I thought the American and Chinese lasers kill satellites not break them up. This one is already dead so nothing will be achieved by zapping it with a high power laser.

  72. heystoopid
    Go

    Oh well

    Oh well , thankfully we do have one aspect on our side a group on independent amateur astronomers equipped with large transportable reflector telescopes , custom built digital electronic cameras and very fast modern portable laptop computers complete with an updated satellite data base and other assorted customised orbital calculation programs !

    These rugged independent individuals blog the results of their endeavours for all to see on the intertubes as well , and have thus been tracking this bird since it was first launched some two years ago and it was they who first made it public it was unstable and coming down and put the object on the daily watch list as they normally do for all large objects in a declining orbit !

    All due to the fact that both autocratic and democratic governments have a known and well documented history of with holding even the basic facts from their own people and love the use of the words "Need to know basis" even after the fact becomes common knowledge !

    What price a choice indeed ?

  73. tony trolle
    Pirate

    why not.....

    ask those boffins who were on 'top gear' to send up another car like a saab

  74. John Macintyre
    Black Helicopters

    I should add..

    that this morning in the Metro the news is that they're shooting it down 'to protect joe public from toxic fumes from the satellite'. Nothing like a bit of media control eh :)

  75. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Reality check

    • Hydrazine is in fact a generic name for a rather large group of chemicals.

    • Rocket propellant 'Hydrazine' is in fact an extremely unstable substance - the chances of a full tank of it (remember, none has/can be used for manoeuvring due to the 'comms outage') surviving an uncontrolled re-entry are vanishingly small.

    • The hazard represented by the kinetic energy of the tank - indeed of any reasonably intact part of the satellite - arriving in an inhabited area is far greater than any possible hazard posed by either the Hydrazine exploding (unstable, remember) or leaking on impact.

    • Iran has recently launched a rocket into space which has the obvious potential to become a ballistic missile - now add that to a thoroughly unstable leader who is hell bent on developing nuclear weapons. And if you doubt the potential there, please note the Russians, who have been supplying Iran with nuclear fuel, have woken up and are now, very publicly, expressing concerns about the direction this is all going in.

    • While the ground based anti-missile systems intended to prevent aggressive ballistic missile launches by countries such as Iran, Korea, and others are as yet not in place, a demonstration of the effectiveness of a ship based system, capable of destroying a reentering warhead or final stage (bearing in mind ship-based systems are less vulnerable than land-based systems and more flexible as regards positioning.

    • What you are seeing here is a demonstration of ability - IF it succeeds. And a warning.

    • It would appear that the US is genuinely concerned about the threat posed by the possession/development of long range weapons by extremist states.

    • In the absence of any credible capacity to do likewise, Russia is limited to voicing it's concern about the developing situation in Iran (which is a lot closer to them than America, or Europe), but is, as yet, not making any critical comment about the Americans declared intentions. Tacit consent is the phrase I think?

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