Goodbye USA-193, your death helps test our planetary defenses

USA-193: The Spy Who Gets Shagged

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…

4 thoughts on “Goodbye USA-193, your death helps test our planetary defenses

  1. I did some rough math and I came up with this satellite traveling at 4.77422 miles per second. With “given” numbers … It would travel from Honalulu Hawaii to Columbus Ohio in 16.284492 minutes on it’s current trajectory providing the missle missed it. My best calculations based on our current intelligence, the probability of a strike is about 3.025%. This is taking in account for the acual target SIZE is only 40″. What I wonder is .. does this missle, once it misses it target, (haha), will it just keep on haulin’ ass into space? I’m NOT going to do the math on IT and it’s potential travel distance. I guess the “smart one’s didn’t think about what’s beyond the target. If it DOES hit the satellite, now we have debris from not just an object the size of a bus, but the missle that’s nearly the same size. Oh good grief.

  2. Nelson: Good find! I’ve just updated the post to add that video link.

    DJ: Hah, supposing your numbers are right, even WIRED’s simulator video didn’t exactly show where the trash is going to land. šŸ˜‰

  3. NPR interviewed an expert. He said the possibility of it hitting a populated area is remotely minute. Also, they (i.e., the US) rather shoot it down then let it fall in into the hands of the chinese or russians. lest they reverse engineer the technology. Think megatron aka nbe1.

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