A Delta II rocket carrying satellite USA-193 takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, December 14, 2006. USAF
Tonight, the United States Navy may make its first attempt to shoot down failing spy satellite USA-193. The Pentagon released notification, but conditions must be ideal for the rocket launch. Without planned removal, the satellite would come back down in early March.
The satellite, which failed immediately after its December 2006 launch, contains a full tank of fuel. Upon re-entry, the satellite will break apart and could disperse hazardous fumes over an area as large as two football fields.
Skeptics believe the U.S. is more concerned with a foreign nation recovering technology aboard the satellite than about toxic fumes. This is doubtful. Should the satellite re-enter, it is unlikely that the remaining debris would be useful for espionage. However, Uncle Sam might use this attempt to flex his muscle in response to China’s satellite downing last year.
This isn't the first time the U.S scrambled with a troublesome satellite. In April 1964, a U.S. reconnaissance satellite came down in Venezuela, near the Colombian border. Dwayne A. Day provides a thorough review of this event in his essay on The Space Review web site.
In 1985, the U.S. angered scientists by taking out a research satellite. On September 13, the Air Force shot down Solwind P78-1 in a congressionally authorized test of an anti-satellite missile program. Two instruments in the satellite’s payload were still functioning. Check out this September 1985 article by John Eberhart about the satellite’s destruction. In it, David Rust of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory soundly criticizes the government for its poor target selection.
How much will Wednesday night’s rocket launch cost John and Jane Q. Public? Officials estimate $40 to $60 million. Let’s hope the Navy obliterates the satellite with only one take.