A bunch of new details emerged overnight about the planned shootdown of a dying spy satellite.
The initial order was twofold: Assess whether shooting down the satellite with a missile was even possible, and at the same time urgently piece together the technological tools it would take to succeed.In the works since January. "The order to launch the crash program came Jan. 4... [with] a final go-ahead decision by President Bush this week," the AP reports.
In a matter of weeks, three Navy warships — the USS Lake Erie, USS Decatur and USS Russell — were outfitted with modified Aegis anti-missile systems, the ships' crews were trained for an unprecedented mission, and three SM-3 missiles were pulled off an assembly line and given a new guidance system.
Giant golf ball deployed. CNN says that "a floating X-band radar has to be modified to track the satellite's trajectory." That would be the massive -- and massively controversial -- Sea-Based X-Band Radar. The $815 million, 28-story, orb-like contraption has the ability, in theory, to tell which way a baseball is spinning -- from 3,000 miles away. But it's also proven to susceptible to the elements and high seas. The thing has been in and out of the repair shop for years.
Big bucks. "The attempt by the U.S. Navy to use an anti-missile missile to shoot down a potentially hazardous satellite will cost between $40 million and $60 million, Pentagon officials told CNN. "The missile alone costs almost $10 million."
Your chances of being hit by the falling satellite: one in a trillion. "Compared with, for example, a one in 1.4 million chance of being hit by lightning in the United States," the Discovery Channel notes.
FEMA to the rescue? "With an eye to the possibility that the missile effort will fail, the government has placed six rescue teams across the country to be prepared to act if the satellite hits the United States," according to the AP.
The spacecraft contains 1,000 pounds of hydrazine in a tank that is expected to survive re-entry and a fuel tank liner made of beryllium.Old news for NASA chief? Some were surprised to see NASA head honcho Michael Griffin helping plan this operation. They shouldn't be. Not only does he have to worry about what happens to the Shuttle and the Space Station. But he was "deputy for technology at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and worked on missile defense systems from 1986 to 1991."
FEMA has prepared a guide for emergency responders that includes information about hydrazine and beryllium. The agency warns officials not to pick up any debris or provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to anyone who has inhaled hydrazine or beryllium.
Diplomatic action. According to the Washington Post, "the State Department sent cables to all embassies yesterday instructing diplomats to explain to foreign governments how the upcoming attempt to shoot down an out-of-control spy satellite is different from China's destruction of one of its orbiting satellites early last year."
Do or die for missile defense? The shootdown "carries opportunity, but also potential embarrassment, for the administration and advocates of its missile defense program," notes the NYT.
Often compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet, the shooting down of ballistic missiles with an interceptor rocket is difficult, as an adversary’s warheads would be launched unexpectedly on relatively short arcs — and most likely more than one at a time.
So it should be easier for the Standard Missile 3, a Navy weapon launched from an Aegis cruiser in the northern Pacific, to find and strike a satellite almost the size of a school bus making orbits almost as regular as bus routes around the globe, 16 times a day.
Should it succeed, the accomplishment would embolden those who champion even more spending on top of the $57.8 billion appropriated by Congress for missile defenses since the Bush administration’s first budget in the 2002 fiscal year.
It might even revive a dormant effort to focus the military on antisatellite operations, as well. Failure, on the other hand, would be cited as hard and fresh evidence for those who point to the futility of space-warfare programs.