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US to Try to Shoot Down Spy Satellite

February 14th, 2008 Posted in Breaking News, Science and Technology

Excerpt of story By LOLITA C. BALDOR

Taking a page from Hollywood science fiction, the Pentagon said Thursday it will try to shoot down a dying, bus-size U.S. spy satellite loaded with toxic fuel on a collision course with the Earth.

The military hopes to smash the satellite as soon as next week — just before it enters Earth’s atmosphere — with a single missile fired from a Navy cruiser in the northern Pacific Ocean.

The dramatic maneuver may well trigger international concerns, and U.S. officials have begun notifying other countries of the plan — stressing that it does not signal the start of a new American anti-satellite weapons program.

Military and administration Other Top officials said the satellite is carrying fuel called hydrazine that could injure or even kill people who are near it when it hits the ground. That reason alone, they said, persuaded President Bush to order the shoot-down.

Left alone, the satellite would be expected to hit Earth during the first week of March. About half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft would be expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and would scatter debris over several hundred miles.

If the missile shot is successful, officials said, much of the debris would burn up as it fell. They said they could not estimate how much would make it through the atmosphere. They said the largest piece that would survive re-entry would be the spherical fuel tank, which is about 40 inches wide — assuming it is not hit directly by the missile.

The goal, however, is to hit the fuel tank in order to minimize the amount of fuel that returns to Earth.

A Navy missile known as Standard Missile 3 would be fired at the spy satellite in an attempt to intercept it just before it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

Known by its military designation US 193, the satellite was launched in December 2006. It lost power and its central computer failed almost immediately afterward, leaving it uncontrollable. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor.

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