US: Broken satellite will be shot down
WASHINGTON - U.S. officials say the Pentagon is planning to shoot down a broken spy satellite expected to hit the Earth in early March.
The Associated Press has learned that the option preferred by the Bush administration will be to fire a missile from a U.S. Navy cruiser, and shoot down the satellite before it enters Earth's atmosphere.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the options will not be publicly discussed until a Pentagon briefing later Thursday.
I read this piece 2 or 3 times trying to figure out what they meant. First, a sate lie in orbit cannot be “shot down” like some airplane. It's in free fall already. It's already falling under the full force of gravity. An airplane is held up by wings and engines. Stop the engines or cut the wings and it falls. A satellite has no wings or engines and is falling free all the time. The reason a satellite stays “up” is because it's moving sideways so fast that by the time it falls “down” it's already gone past the earth, so “down” just takes it around to the other side.
If a missile were shot at the satellite and hit it, there would be collision of some kind. Most of the missile is likely to go right through the satellite, punching a hole like a rifle bullet only much faster. Various pieces will fly off in all directions. After being hit by a missile, some parts of the satellite will be slowed down. The slower moving parts will still be falling free toward the earth but no longer be moving fast enough to miss, and will hit the atmosphere at many thousand miles per hour. Other parts of the missile and satellite will splash off in other directions, causing a cloud of space junk in random orbits higher or lower than the original satellite. The collision just gets more messy if you put a bomb on the missile. You can damage or destroy a satellite in orbit, but you can't really shoot it “down.”
The second question is about the ship and the missile. Navy cruisers don't normally carry missiles capable of reaching out to orbit altitudes and capable of intercepting satellites. For several years the US government has been developing missiles for intercepting ICBM missiles. From time to time we have read news stories about anti-ICBM missile tests over the pacific. But to date this is the first time I have read about any nation using a missile to intercept and “shoot down” a satellite. Some interesting questions come up. Is this one of the anti-ICBM missiles they are using or a secret space war weapons system that we've never been told about? What is it doing on a navy cruiser? Has the secret space war weapons system, or the anti-ICBM missiles been deployed to the fleet already?
To actually “shot down” a satellite in orbit you have to physically slow it “down.” Conceivably you could meet it with a secrete military space war rocket craft, have some astronuts fasten some retro-rockets to it, and then fire the rockets to slow it's forward speed. It would still hit the atmosphere at a very high speed and come down in a fiery reentry, but at least you could control where it landed.
You can't just “shoot” it “down.” You have to slow it down. A missile fired to crash into it or to explode on contact will destroy it but leave its pieces in thousands of random orbits, some falling sooner, and some falling later than the whole. The reason that near earth satellites eventually fall is because there is always some small forces slowing them down. Over time they slow down until eventually their free fall happens before they get past the other side of the earth and the drag of the upper atmosphere becomes larger and larger until the atmospheric drag becomes severe and they slow down rapidly. You can't “shoot down” a satellite, you can only slow it down. You can destroy it or make a big mess out of it. Hitting it with a missile will make a big mess out of the satellite. It will not shoot it down.
The damaged satellite is a military secret designed for spying or communication or some other secret space war purpose. It apparently suffered a rocket failure on launch and never reached the required speed and altitude. It's too low, dragging the upper atmosphere, slowing down, and coming down soon. I'm sure that the military is very concerned that it may fall in Asia or some other unfriendly country and much of the secret technology will fall into the wrong hands. Rather than shooting it “down” with the missile, the plan may be to destroy it sufficiently so that the technology doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
I, for one, would be disappointed if our government had not been working on an array of secret space war technology. We haven't heard much from the “Skunk Works” since the “Stealth Fighter” was made public a couple of decades ago. The Air Force canceled it's Space Shuttle program in around 1990, but what have they done since? Is there a secret military space war program with secret stealth space ships and astronuts? I would be disappointed in our government if there isn't.
We will never know the facts behind this cover story. The military is going to do something with missiles fired from a ship somewhere. They are going to intercept a military satellite that is likely to fall in the wrong place. After that, we will probably never know just what is going on, but its interesting to speculate.
Read Yahoo story here