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Fri, Feb 15, 2008

US Plans To Shoot Down Defective Spy Satellite

Should Reduce Risk Of Debris Falling Into Wrong Hands

Concerned a defective surveillance satellite might fall into the wrong hands when it deorbits early next month, the Pentagon will reportedly blast the errant satellite from the sky.

The Associated Press states the Bush administration supports a plan to fire a missile from a US Navy cruiser to shoot down the satellite sometime next week. As ANN reported, the satellite was launched from California just over one year ago, but stopped responding to commands from earth shortly after it reached orbit.

Ostensibly, the plan is aimed at protecting those on the ground from hazardous materials onboard the satellite, including its nearly-full hydrazine fuel tank.

"Although the chances of an impact in a populated area are small, the potential consequences would be of enough concern to consider mitigating actions," the Department of Defense stated in a release to ANN. "Therefore, the President has decided to take action to mitigate the risk to human lives by engaging the non-functioning satellite."

But the plan has two additional benefits to the military, as well.

Destroying the satellite will prevent the sensitive technology onboard -- specifically, a top-secret imaging sensor -- from potentially falling into the hands of China, Russia, or Iran -- as no one is really sure where debris from the deorbiting satellite would land. It will also give the US military its first chance to test a planned missile defense system under real-world conditions.

"Because our missile defense system is not designed to engage satellites, extraordinary measures have been taken to temporarily modify three sea-based tactical missiles and three ships to carry out the engagement," the DoD adds.

Officials stress the Pentagon plans a different approach to the one taken by China in January 2007, when that country launched a medium-range missile to destroy one of its own decommissioned weather satellites. That explosion resulted in the potential for dangerous debris in orbit.

To decrease the amount of flotsam that would remain orbiting Earth, military personnel reportedly plan to fire the missile near the end of the US satellite's orbital rotation, in a location that should -- in theory, anyway -- decrease not only the amount of on-orbit debris, but also the amount of debris that could fall to Earth intact.

As much as half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft could have survived reentry if the satellite was allowed to fall to Earth on its own, according to officials.

There's no word yet on an exact time when officials will send up the missile.



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