To USA-193: “Good day mate! It’s aboot time!”
Using coordinates from A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued on 18th Feb 2008, Alan put together a KMZ file which we can overlay on Google Earth for a good view of the spy satellite’s killzone and the expected trajectory of debris. If it makes for land mass, the debris should end up either over the sparsely populated parts of Canada or Australia, due to the spy satellite’s parabolic orbital path.
If you’re wondering what this is about, over Valentine’s day, the Pentagon made the decision to blast their failing satellite out of the sky before it hits the ground. Some nations are in dispute about taking this course of action (i.e. missile action), but there are a few reasons backing this up:
1. It contains 1,000 pounds of hydrazine
According to the EPA, “exposure to high levels of hydrazine may [induce] irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, dizziness, headache, nausea, pulmonary edema, seizures, and coma in humans.” It’s the same stuff in cigarette smoke, just way more.
2. It’s a spy satellite
Just to be safe, they’re blowing it away.
3. Makes good target practice
Despite the operation costing an average of $50 million, this is will be a pretty good test of the U.S. strategic missile defense. I’d say it might even let me rest easier to know that we stand a better chance if some stray asteroid were to come for us.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first satellite take-down of this sort. China previously took theirs down at a much higher altitude, sparking sharp criticism for bringing military testing to space and creating an astonishing amount of debris out there. It’s still going to be messy, just not as bad.
See the full explanation of the operation on Zarya spaceflight web site as well as on the New York Times. Thanks to Nelson, he’s pointed out WIRED’s video simulation which shows how it’s all going down…