“This is the first time we’ve used a tactical missile to engage a spacecraft..”

Despite the assurances in this BBC report, it appears that at a press briefing at the US Department of Defence today reporters were told that there will be an attempt to destroy the out of control US spy satellite – I mentioned here previously – by firing a missile from a US Navy ship before the satellite re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.. They will, however, wait until after the Space Shuttle Atlantis has returned.. According to the latest BBC report – “the window of opportunity for the strike would open in the next three or four days and last for about a week.”

The US Navy plans to modify a Standard Missile 3 to be launched from an Aegis destroyer – usually part of the US Missile Defense System designed to intercept ballistic missiles. Gen Cartwright said they planned to have one missile shot, but there would be three missiles available on three ships. If the first attempt was unsuccessful, a decision would be made [on] whether a second attempt was required.

It must be done before it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, otherwise the craft would be “next to impossible” to hit because of atmospheric disturbances. “We are better off taking the attempt than not,” Gen Cartwright said.

Adds If it’s the Raytheon RIM-161 Standard SM-3, which uses an infra-red sensor, those missiles have a not entirely successful test history. Meanwhile The US DOD claim that “our officials have high confidence that the engagement will be successful.” Hmmm.. Update Despite claims in the Belfast Telegraph, and elsewhere, that “Astronomy enthusiasts say that debris could land anywhere from Co Cork to Co Donegal”, this report points to how the debris will be dispersed

Intercepting the satellite at about 130 nautical miles altitude will reduce the risk of debris in space. Once the satellite is hit, officials hope 50 percent of the debris will come to Earth in the first two orbits and the rest shortly thereafter, Cartwright said.

While the Associated Press reports

Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the same briefing that the “window of opportunity” for such a shootdown, presumably to be launched from a Navy ship, will open in the next three or four days and last for seven or eight days. He did not say whether the Pentagon has decided on an exact launch date.

Cartwright said this will be an unprecedented effort; he would not say exactly what are the odds of success.

“This is the first time we’ve used a tactical missile to engage a spacecraft,” Cartwright said.

After extensive study and analysis, U.S. officials came to the conclusion that, “we’re better off taking the attempt than not,” Cartwright said.

He said a Navy missile known as Standard Missile 3 would be fired in an attempt to intercept the satellite just prior to it re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. It would be “next to impossible” to hit the satellite after that because of atmospheric disturbances, Cartwright said.

A second goal, he said, is to directly hit the fuel tank in order to minimize the amount of fuel that returns to Earth.

Software associated with the Standard Missile 3 has been modified to enhance the chances of the missile’s sensors recognizing that the satellite is its target; he noted that the missile’s designed mission is to shoot down ballistic missiles, not satellites. Other officials said the missile’s maximum range, while a classified figure, is not great enough to hit a satellite operating in normal orbits.

“It’s a one-time deal,” Cartwright said when asked whether the modified Standard Missile 3 should be considered a new U.S. anti-satellite weapon technology.

Adds The Space Weather site has current footage of the satellite as viewed from Earth.

USA 193

, , ,

  • Dewi

    Contract out to South Armaugh?

  • Dewi

    South Armagh even

  • Pete Baker

    Dewi

    My alternative title for this post was “Look to the skies – redux”

    As in, we are all in the gutter..

    Some topics don’t require a glib reference to local difficulties.

  • Dewi

    Sorry Pete – been a bit focussed on Dromore….

  • Turgon

    Pete,
    Not a fair question but what do you think their chances of hitting it are?

  • joeCanuck

    Well, I wish there was on-line betting here in Canada, Turgon. I’d bet $20 that they miss. The majority of their anti-missile trials missed.

  • joeCanuck

    Great capture by the Space Weather folks.

  • Pete Baker

    It’s a tricky question, Turgon.

    I don’t know enough about the modifications they intend to make to the sensors, or indeed the sensors themselves, to make an accurate call on that.

    But given that the missiles appear to use infra-red sensors, and that the tests to date have not always been completely successful, it’s got to be only a slim chance.

  • Pete Baker

    Joe

    Snap. ;op

  • joeCanuck

    There is also the question as to whether these missiles are being developed to actually defend the USA or to make megabucks for the developers and their backers.

  • k

    The warhead on a Standard missile isn’t that big and as it works on a proximity sensor with SARH guidance (the IR is for terminal guidance only)won’t it simply cripple the satellite? Range isn’t an issue. As the target is non-maneouvring they can simply add a few ‘Extended-Range’ rocket boosters.
    The expanding rod warhead is very unlikely to destroy the satellite. It will simply destablise it further and cause it to re-enter orbit sooner rather than later. How does this help?
    Methinks this is simply the Yanks looking to show off about how great their Anti-Ballistic missile/satellite technology is without being accused of breaking any treaties. Seeing George Bush talk about how he was worried about the extremely small possibility that this might injure someone was nauseating. This humanitarian who authorised hundreds of executions in Texas and invaded Iraq on behalf of Halliburton!

  • Dread Cthulhu

    joeCanuck: “There is also the question as to whether these missiles are being developed to actually defend the USA or to make megabucks for the developers and their backers. ”

    which means either you need to loosen the tin-foil hate or get you some imagination, joe…

    Why can’t it be both?

    The technology to “hit a bullet with a bullet” isn’t cheap, and if it were all smoke and mirrors, all the tests would have been successses, ala the “Alvin York” fiasco.

    Likewise, the odds of missing are probably smaller than in some of the tests — decent sized target falling in a straight line

    k: “Methinks this is simply the Yanks looking to show off about how great their Anti-Ballistic missile/satellite technology is without being accused of breaking any treaties.”

    Having withdrawn from the ABM treaty, there are no treaty obligations to break, k. Likewise, I notice that the Chinese ASAT action would appear not to ruffle your feathers. Funny thing, that.

  • joeCanuck

    I guess I’m more cynical than you Dread, especially thinking about the “Star Wars” boondoggle and variants thereof.
    Plus I firmly believe that the whisperer in Reagan’s ear was a raving lunatic worthy of Dr.Strangelove.

  • joeCanuck
  • joeCanuck

    Forgot to point out, Dread. That “straight line” you mention is only in non-euclidean geometry. Not as simple as you might think.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Isn’t this obviously a response to the Chinese doing the same thing recently?

    It’s the space race all over again surely, with America embarrassed into having to show their opponents they can do the same thing?

  • heck

    Pete,I’m not anti american like the other lefties who post here but given the Bush administration (and the British government) response to the chinese doing the same thing I sense a large dose of double standards.

    If I lived in the third world I would be getting angry at this. (What’s next honest Tony wanting an end to corruption in arms deals, Bush condemning torture, Israel refusing to talk to someone who supports violence.)

  • wild turkey

    has anyone seen the headline in the 15 feb london times?

    are they going to zap the satelite over ireland?

    Pentagon reveals plans to shoot down spy satellite over Ireland

    James Bone in New York
    Pentagon officials have announced plans to shoot down a failing spy satellite orbiting over Ireland with a missile from a US navy warship to prevent debris from showering the Earth.

    The dramatic operation will target the secret satellite identified as USA 193, which is expected to fall from orbit in the first week of March.

    Amateur satellite trackers say that the craft, about the size of a small bus, travels an orbit of 58.5 degrees that takes it over most the Earth from Ireland and the tip of Scotland to Patagonia at the southern end of Latin America. It could crash almost anywhere.

  • Christy

    I happen to live with a scientist.

    It has been acknowledged that the ship is loaded with ‘a couple of thousand litres’ of something called hydroscene, probably spelt wrong, it’s hugely toxic and highly explosive, so I’m told.

    So much so that a thimble full under the right conditions, heat, external pressures etc, would be enough to turn the waterfront hall into a big dirty pile of rubble and dust.

    One hopes they know what they are doing. One also hopes they don’t miss, although Americas success in finding anything these days, Oil, WMD’s, leaves a lot to be desired.

    Does anyone have a Bunker?

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘would be enough to turn the waterfront hall into a big dirty pile of rubble and dust.’

    am i the only one who hopes Westlife will be performing on stage the moment this happens?

  • Christy

    Probably not.

  • BfB

    Nice to see the anti-American ‘neutral’ gobshites start with the usual crap. Get your slings and arrows out, all gather together out by Newgrange, and let’s see if we can’t get that payload to blow your asses into obscurity where you all belong. I know it will be a great loss to all the freedom loving, oppressed people of the world, but they’ll get over it. I can’t wait to watch it on youtube.
    Tsk, tsk.

  • BfB

    Your time would be better spent on this EU tragedy in slow motion. I’m sure it’s all over the BBC….

  • Dewi

    There you go Christy You could sit next to Ian P!

  • Jo

    Saying they do in fact miss.

    Where does the missile go?

  • Dewi

    “Saying they do in fact miss.

    Where does the missile go?”

    …Boston…or was it Florida BfB…

  • Jo

    Boston, I think.

    One wonders what a Muslim hater would find attractive about this part of the world.

    Oh wait a minute…

  • Dread Cthulhu

    joeCanuck: “I guess I’m more cynical than you Dread, especially thinking about the “Star Wars” boondoggle and variants thereof. ”

    You’re not even close to my level of cynicism, joe. It’s one of the reasons I like you.

    Star Wars had it’s place — a lot of ancilliary technology falls out of these “boondoggles” like “Star Wars” or the Apollo Program. Likewise, on the military front, the high energy weapons currently in testing are the descendents of “Star Wars,” so it is not as if it was money wholly wasted.

    joeCanuck: “That “straight line” you mention is only in non-euclidean geometry. Not as simple as you might think. ”

    As noted elsewhere, it is the size of a bus, on an uncomplicated entry… compared to targeting the terminal stage of a MIRV missile, determining warhead from dummy, etc., it’s dirt simple, joe. It just happens that it is a relative thing.

  • joeCanuck

    Unrelated. I visited the UN in New York a few years back. Near the entrance they had a large board giving some world “facts”. It said that if 10% of the world’s annual military expenditure were diverted, poverty could be wiped out across the world.
    And to think that some of the poorer countries are the biggest per capita spenders. For the glorification of their megalomaniac “leaders” in some cases.

  • joeCanuck

    Not per capita, of course. As a percentage of GNP.

  • Christy

    BfB, I can honestly say that the blog you pointed me to was just horrific, the facts of the missile and the fuel the sattelite is carrying come from a wholly more reliable source that ‘straight from jesusland’ as quoted.

    If thats the kind of tripe you read i’m not surprised you reacted so to a simple post raising simple questions to what could be a fairly serious incident…