U.S. Antisatellite Weapon to be Tested

Posted by Sam Churchill on

The Bush administration has decided to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite (USA-193), reports the Washington Post.

According to Deputy National Security Adviser James F. Jeffrey, the official cover story is hydrazine fuel tanks were not expected to explode on their own as the satellite hit the atmosphere and could fall to Earth and injure people.

“This is all about trying to reduce the danger to human beings,” he said (transcript and video).

Jeffries’ press conference (right), looks ripped from The Daily Show.

Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, said today that the “stated rationale for this shoot-down is simply not credible. In the history of the space age, there has not been a single human being who has been harmed by man-made objects falling from space.”

Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “this is the first time we’ve used a tactical missile to engage a spacecraft.” The military’s “window of opportunity” would open in the next three to four days to shoot down the satellite before it entered the atmosphere, according to Cartwright, and then the Navy would have a chance seven to eight days later.

If they didn’t hit the craft, he said, it would plunge to Earth in early March.

A Standard Missile launched from the Aegis, an SM-3 would be used to shoot down the spacecraft, said officials at the press conference today — not a specialized anti-satellite weapon. The SM-3 missile has made twelve intercepts out of fourteen attempts during testing.

The missile is normally used for missile defense, but was modified with software to target the satellite profile. Three Navy warships — the USS Lake Erie, USS Decatur and USS Russell — were outfitted with modified Aegis anti-missile systems.

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin said U.S. officials do not expect debris to be a problem from this satellite and that any classified components of the satellite would be destroyed beyond any reconnaissance value even without this action.

Griffin estimated that if the satellite is successfully hit, 50 percent of the debris would fall to Earth within one day, and almost 100 percent within two weeks. That’s because the spy satellite would be so close to the atmosphere.

But Griffin stuck his neck out and stressed that without this action the Hydrazine tank — about 40″ in diameter — WOULD land on earth and WOULD be leaking, although the area of danger would only be about the size of two football fields.

When the Chinese tested their anti-satellite weapon on their own weather satellite, it was some 530 miles high (see DailyWireless: Chinese Destroy Satellite – Create Space Debris Field). That decision still has many scratching their heads. The move has been widely perceived to be unconscionable.

Boeing was kept on as the contractor for the less complex radar sat series even after their spectacular $15B F.I.A. failure. The [Boeing] radar satellite, NROL-21 (right) is roughly the size of a school bus and is believed to weigh between 5,000 to 10,000 pounds. It still carries most or all of its fuel because it lost communication with ground control almost immediately and was never ordered to conduct a burn of its fuel.

A Delta II rocket launched the satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base on 14 December 2006. Boeing’s NROL-21 (USA-193) satellite failed within hours of its launch. It was launched into a 351 x 367 km orbit with an inclination of 58.5 degrees. The payload is believed to be the first of the Future Imagery Architecture [FIA] imaging radar spacecraft, designed to be the replacement for the operational Lacrosse/Vega/Onyx spacecraft that are believed to carry two elongated radar imaging dishes.

Boeing won the FIA contract, back in 1999. By 2005 – after spending $10 billion on FIA, including about $4 or $5 billion in cost overruns – the government finally had enough, taking the project away from Boeing, and giving it to Lockheed. Lockheed then had to re-tool, almost from scratch. Meanwhile, Boeing demanded $500 million in termination fees.

Lockheed Martin is now working on two Advanced KH-11 gap filler spacecraft for about $15 billion to replace the delayed FIA systems. Upcoming launches include NROL-28, a large eavesdropping sigint spacecraft. It is set to launch Feb. 26 into a highly elliptical orbit on the first Atlas V EELV to be flown from Vandenberg.

The “Misty” stealth satellite program almost doubled in cost — from $5 billion to nearly $9.5 billion, and has been tracked in space by amateurs, according to the Washington Post.

On June 15, 2007, the engine of a ULA-launched Atlas V shut down early, leaving its payload — a pair of NRO L-30 ocean surveillance satellitesin a lower than intended orbit.

America’s spy satellites cost you billions, but can’t even get off the launch pad, according to an in-depth feature story by U.S. News and World Report. Florida Today explains how the military’s rocket program became $14.44 billion over budget and counting.

Taxpayers subsidized two parallel heavy lift rockets in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program (Rand study), to the tune of $34 billion (with $14 billion in cost overruns). When the government announced they would no longer pay billions in corporate welfare, Boeing and Lockheed Martin agreed to merge their troubled operations into one troubled projectthe United Launch Alliance which brought the two competing rocket programs under one tent. The National Taxpayers Union claims the program dings taxpayers with a half-billion-dollar-a-year subsidy.

Costs for the DOD’s major space programs have increased roughly $12.2 billion – or almost 44 percent – above initial estimates for fiscal years 2006 through 2011, according to GAO’s Nov. 17 report (pdf, above), prepared for the House Armed Services Subcommittee. A cost overrun of 25 percent requires Congressional approval to continue. Since 2000, thirty-five programs have infringed Nunn-McCurdy22 of them exceeding the 25 percent threshold that triggers Congressional review. For example, the Army had said its Future Combat Systems would cost $86 billion for 15 brigades, but later upped the price tag to $130 billion. That’s a Boeing and SAIC party.

Boeing is a United States company, but has joint ventures with Chinese and Russian space enterprises. Same deal with Lockheed. Hundreds of generals and admirals have “sold out” to beltway contractors. For what?

The United States Space Surveillance Network detects, tracks, catalogs and identifies man-made objects orbiting Earth. The number of cataloged objects is more than 10,000.

The Missile Defense Agency has several antisatellite systems under development designed to perform intercepts in space, including the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, the ship-based Aegis ballistic missile defense system, and the Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, although other technologies, such as directed energy weapons, are said to be in development.

The National Missile Defense site at Fort Greeley, Alaska, is operational with some 20 ground-based interceptors. This defense can be supplemented by Aegis cruisers armed with the new Block 3 Standard missile and, in a few years, the U.S. Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) theater missile defense system.

The Missile Defense Agency previously planned a constellation of 20 or more missile tracking satellites under the Space Based Infrared System – Low program, which was restructured into the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS).

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for that effort, which is known as STSS Block 06, while Raytheon is the subcontractor building the Laser Communications Terminal. Launch of those STSS satellites had been scheduled for this spring.

NFIRE, the NASA-sponsored Near Field Infrared Experiment, is a boost-phase missile defense system. The interceptor missile would home in on the infrared signature of an enemy missile’s hot exhaust.

Currently, the United States and other nations endorse and practice codes of appropriate conduct at sea, on the ground, and in the air. But there’s no law in space.

In related news, Russia and China on Tuesday jointly submitted to a UN-sponsored disarmament conference a proposal for an international treaty to ban the deployment of weapons in outer space.

China hoped that a draft treaty on preventing an arms race in outer space would receive a positive response, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao said on Thursday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the deployment of weapons in space could lead to an arms race, as he presented a draft treaty on banning such weapons to the United Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

The White House responded to the proposal on Tuesday afternoon, saying it opposed any treaty that sought “to prohibit or limit access to or use of space.”

Jonathan’s Space Report has more on upcoming SDS data relay satellite launches of the Jumpseat and Trumpet variety. NASA has a real-time satellite tracker (below).

The US currently accounts for roughly 95 percent of total global military space expenditures with approximately 130 operational military-related satellites – over half of all military satellites in orbit, says spacesecurity.org (pdf).

Upcoming commercial launches include the ICO G1 (March 21) and Inmarsat 4 (March-April 2008) positioned over the Pacific, handy for tiny BGAN terminals on the West Coast.

SeeSat-L’s archives on the de-orbiting of USA 193 (NROL-21) would be THE source for facts on the satellite’s position. You can see the current position of USA 193 here.

In July 2000 the Navy announced that USS Lake Erie (CG 70) had been designated the Navy’s test ship for the AEGIS Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile intercept flight-test series — the AEGIS LEAP.

The LEAP program pioneered the development of small, miniaturized kill vehicles atop the Standard SM-3 missile for better range and accuracy. It beat out a proposed A-Sat system, Brilliant Pebbles, that used a thousand small, highly intelligent orbiting satellites with kinetic warheads.

The Autonomous Nanosatellite Guardian for Evaluating Local Space (ANGELS) program, such as the XSS-11 is intended to provide the continuous monitoring of assets in GEO.

The Russian Almaz program, launched by the Soviet Union under cover of the civilian Salyut program, included anti-satellite protection, says Nova’s Astrospies web site (left). The Russian Space Web has more info.

Besides the U.S. and Russia, China and Japan launch spy satellites. Israel has a spy satellite program, as does NATO, the United Kingdom, and France. Whether or not the Russians will now test an ASAT weapon may be an open question. The Missile Wars (FrontLine) may be heating up.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Radarsat 2 satellite (right) was successfully launched on Dec 14 while high resolution sat photos can be ordered from GeoEye, DigitalGlobe and Spot and are used on Google Maps and Microsoft Live.

Related DailyWireless stories include; F.I.A. FUBAR, Space Cold War, Chinese Destroy Satellite – Create Space Debris Field, Space Radar Launch, Satellite Jam, Lockheed CEO: Space is Broken, NRO Rides Again, T-Minus 10 for Space X, Routers in Space, Fiber Crosses the Pond, Canaveral Double Header for DOD, Space Capsule, Another Billion for WIN-T, Small Satellite Conference, SkyNet Satellite Hacked?, Russian Satellite Zapped?, Satellites from Subs, Advanced EHF – Wait for It, EELV Rocket Program Merges, Space Mist, Tracking the NRO, Rocket Welfare, Mapping Santa, GOES-N Launched, Crisis at NOAA, Pacific Satellites Fail and Unwired in Maui.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Thursday, February 14th, 2008 at 3:31 pm .

One thought on “U.S. Antisatellite Weapon to be Tested

  1. I think the real worry is that some of the parts from the satellite will be a security risk for the US, and the defense department doesn’t want them to be found for sale on ebay….

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