By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
February 20, 2008
Three U.S. Navy ships have positioned themselves for an unprecedented mission: the execution of a dangerous satellite
about 150 miles above the earth.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates will decide when the U.S. Navy will shoot for the first time at the rogue and out of control satellite about to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.
The satellite, USA 193, failed soon after launch in 2006. The satellite contains about 1,000 pounds of dangerous hydrazine fuel. Hydrazine is toxic to man and animals.
The Navy will use a modified SM-3 missile, a product of the Aegis ballistic missile defense weapons system, to shoot down the malfunctioning satellite. Aegis BMD has been in development since the early 1990s.
Three ships are prepared for the mission: USS Lake Erie, USS Decatur, and USS Russell. All have the Aegis BMD system, the SM-3 missile, and significant crew training and experience.
“We all have an agreed-upon series of steps that need to be taken for this launch to be given the go-ahead,” DoD spokesman Morrell said, adding that no final decision has been made on when to make the attempt.
“The [Defense] Secretary is the one who will decide if and when to pull the trigger,” the Mr. Morrell told us.
The launch could take place as early as 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time tonight.
After Mr. Gates gives the go ahead, this mission rests in the hands of the men and women — the sailors — of the United States Navy. Engineers and technologists completed their work long ago. Now sailors will do their professional best — as they always do.
The best report on this mission we saw last night and this morning came from the Army Times and appears below:
By Zachary M. Peterson – Staff writer
February 19, 2008
Sailors aboard the cruiser Lake Erie could attempt the Navy’s first-of-its-kind missile shot to destroy a broken spy satellite as soon as Wednesday evening, officials said Tuesday.
The Navy will use a modified SM-3 missile, leveraging the Aegis ballistic missile defense weapons system to shoot down the malfunctioning satellite, which Defense Department officials fear could potentially shower hazardous debris on Earth.
This photo released by the US Navy in 2003 shows a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) launching from the Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie. The US warship is moving into position to try to shoot down a defunct US spy satellite as early as Wednesday before it tumbles into the Earth’s atmosphere, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
The launch could take place as early as 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
The missile does not contain a warhead — it destroys its target using the force of the impact.
The SM-3 is the same missile the Navy uses in its ballistic missile defense tests, but the three missiles modified for the satellite shoot-down have software alterations designed to hit the specific target, a Navy official told reporters Tuesday afternoon in a briefing at the Pentagon.
This picture released by the US Navy shows Fire Controlman 2nd Class John Whitby operating the radar system control during a ballistic missile defense drill on February 16 aboard the USS Lake Erie. The US warship is moving into position to try to shoot down a defunct US spy satellite as early as Wednesday before it tumbles into the Earth’s atmosphere, Pentagon officials said.
(AFP/US Navy-HO/Michael Hight)
The official requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the missile shot.
The National Geospatial Agency has issued an aircraft advisory warning aviators of hazardous operations in a large area of the North Pacific Ocean near Hawaii from 9:30 p.m. EST Wednesday evening to 12:00 a.m. Thursday setting off speculation that this will be the window the Navy uses to shoot down the satellite.
Ted Molczan, a satellite watcher who has been watching the failed spy satellite closely since its launch in 2006, has calculated it will pass directly over the area specified in the notifications for about three minutes around 10:30 p.m. EST Wednesday.
The cruiser Lake Erie will take the first shot, the official said. The ship is carrying one additional modified SM-3 as well. The destroyer Decatur will provide long-range surveillance and tracking and also has one modified SM-3 aboard, the Navy source said. A third ship, the destroyer Russell, will “likely” remain pierside in Hawaii to provide backup for the Decatur, another Navy source said.
The Military Sealift Command missile range instrumentation ship Observation Island will also collect data and monitor the shoot, officials added.
Ultimately, the Navy is equipped to take three shots at the satellite, but there will be some period of time in between them, according to the Pentagon.
Officials would not specify how long they would wait to try again if the first shot misses, nor would they reveal how often the broken satellite completes an orbit over the Earth.
A typical Aegis BMD test, in which a warship destroys a test ballistic rocket fired from a range in Hawaii, lasts between 20 and 80 seconds.
The Pentagon first became aware of the potentially dangerous re-entry of the satellite early this year, according to press reports. The satellite, known as USA 193, experienced problems upon launch in 2006 and is roughly the size of school bus, DoD officials confirmed.
It took the Navy about six weeks to make the necessary modifications to the missiles and radars to “take it to sea with some degree of confidence,” the Navy official said at Tuesday’s briefing.
The Navy had no prior capability to shoot down satellites and had previously “not explored that,” the source added.
The challenge for the Navy in hitting the satellite is the nature of the target, the official said. The satellite is “bigger and faster than a missile” and the target must be hit in the fuel tank, which remains full, the official said.
The Defense Department will send out a statement within an hour of the missile’s launch, but it could take a day or longer to determine if the fuel tank was hit, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday.
The satellite does not have its own heat signature, so operators must rely on the sun to warm the target.
The official described the orbiting satellite as a “cold body in space.”
Since January 2002, the Navy has a solid rate of success in its Aegis ballistic missile defense test program, hitting 12 of 14 targets so far.
The tests have increased in complexity, most recently boasting a success hit of a separating target last December.
The cost of the shoot down is unclear, but an Aegis ballistic missile defense tests costs around $40 million, the source said. One SM-3 missile costs about $10 million.
In this image provided by the US Navy a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) is launched from Pearl Harbor-based guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) to intercept a threat representative target as part of a Missile Defense Agency test of the sea-based capability under development on Nov. 6, 2007. Taking a page from Hollywood science fiction, the Pentagon said Thursday Feb. 14, 2008 it will try to shoot down a dying, bus-size U.S. spy satellite loaded with toxic fuel on a collision course with the Earth using a SM-3 missile. The military hopes to smash the satellite as soon as next week — just before it enters Earth’s atmosphere — with a single missile fired from a Navy cruiser in the northern Pacific Ocean. Software associated with the SM-3 has been modified to enhance the chances of the missile’s sensors recognizing that the satellite is its target.
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