Thursday, February 21, 2008

United States shoots down its own spy satellite

The United States has successfully shot down an errant spy satellite, ostensibly to protect us on the ground from the dangers of a toxic hydrazine fuel spill, but other reasons posited have been to destroy any top secret material on the satellite or just to show the world (especially China) that we can do it.

The Department of Defense has released some cool photos of the missile in flight and of the explosion that they say probably destroyed the tank of hydrazine that they were aiming at. The missile looked like it was two stage, which pretty much makes it a real live spaceship.

The press has made a big hoopla about the speed of the impact and the difficulty of hitting the satellite, but how is this different from any other orbital rendezvous? You may recall that the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on February 7th and successfully rendezvoused with the Space Station. Isn't this missile test just a space rendezvous gone wrong? The Shuttle and Space Station had to be going the same speed and orbit before they could dock, the missile and satellite just had to cross. Now, I couldn't do this myself, but the United States military and civilian space programs have demonstrated this capability on many occasions. Even Tom Clancy has an Aegis guided missile destroyer take out a ballistic missile in his novel, The Bear and the Dragon.

It is funny that they felt they needed to do it and don't seem to be concerned about the debris in orbit. I suppose most of it reentered the atmosphere and burned up. They had harsh words when the Chinese did a similar thing last year. Now the Chinese have harsh words for the US for weaponizing space. Both governments are a bit hypocritical on this topic. I don't recommend a space war started by destroying anyone's satellites anyway. It is easy to start and hard to stop, you stop the missiles but the debris just keeps on going, and would leave us without some very needed technology.

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