Thursday, February 21, 2008

Star Wars. . . Nothing but Star Wars . . . Give me Those Star Wars. . . Don't let them E-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-end!*

I'm in my mom's office, pissing away reading break and waiting for word on our cat Cedric, who's undergoing balldectomy getting neutered at I speak. To pass the time (which I could've been spending doing marking. . . or something-- anything-- out in the open air) I thought I'd write about the lastest bit of space news I've come across.

Sometime last night, while the rest of the western hemisphere stood in the freezing air waiting for a lunar eclipse, the US Navy shot down one of its own country's spy satellites. The satellite was in a decaying orbit, and some believed that it might be able to partially survive re-entry and crash somewhere on Earth--more specifically, somewhere on Earth that's Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran. There's also speculation that the spy satellite contains large amounts of unconsumed hydrazine rocket fuel, which might pose an environmental hazard (indeed, the fact that the fuel was unconsumed, and hence unable to laung the satellite to higher orbit and greater velocity, might explain why it is falling in the first place).

Naturally, the United States government is keeping mum about this whole affair. After all, government and military secrets are at stake, and besides, the whole thing is so embarrasing that. . . oh look, the Department of Defence posted a video of the Navy blowing up the satellite:

Apparently, the cloud of gas that appears after the explosion was indeed unburned hydrazine, according to a spectral analysis.

Now, I can understand the DOD posting the video in order to quell the public's worries of, how shall I put it, a KILLER FUCKING SATELLITE:

But, being the paranoid sort that I am, I couldn't help but wonder if there was something else going on here. Then I remembered that China, just one month ago, also blew up a satellite with a ground-based missile:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- China last week successfully used a missile to destroy an orbiting satellite, U.S. government officials told CNN on Thursday, in a test that could undermine relations with the West and pose a threat to satellites important to the U.S. military.

According to a spokesman for the National Security Council, the ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile knocked an old Chinese weather satellite from its orbit about 537 miles above Earth. The missile carried a "kill vehicle" and destroyed the satellite by ramming it.

The test took place on January 11. (There was a link to a video here, but I cut it out. You can find it at the main site.)

Aviation Week and Space Technology first reported the test: "Details emerging from space sources indicate that the Chinese Feng Yun 1C (FY-1C) polar orbit weather satellite launched in 1999 was attacked by an asat (anti-satellite) system launched from or near the Xichang Space Center."

A U.S. official, who would not agree to be identified, said the event was the first successful test of the missile after three failures.

The official said that U.S. "space tracking sensors" confirmed that the satellite is no longer in orbit and that the collision produced "hundreds of pieces of debris," that also are being tracked.
So. . . is all of this just an outer space pissing contest between China and the United States? Are we about to enter a new Cold War in Earth orbit? The U.S. has issued diplomatic protests, and President Bush has been waving that little of sabre of his over issues of American outer space policy for some time now:
The United States logged a formal diplomatic protest.

"We are aware of it and we are concerned, and we made it known," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Several U.S. allies, including Canada and Australia, have also registered protests, and the Japanese government said it was worrisome.

"Naturally, we are concerned about it from the viewpoint of security as well as peaceful use of space," said Yashuhisa Shiozaki, chief cabinet secretary. He said Japan has asked the Chinese government for an explanation.

Britain has complained about lack of consultation before the test and potential damage from the debris it left behind, The Associated Press reported.

The United States has been able to bring down satellites with missiles since the mid-1980s, according to a history of ASAT programs posted on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site. In its own test, the U.S. military knocked a satellite out of orbit in 1985.

Under a space policy authorized by President Bush in August, the United States asserts a right to "freedom of action in space" and says it will "deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so."

The policy includes the right to "deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests."

Low Earth-orbit satellites have become indispensable for U.S. military communications, GPS navigation for smart bombs and troops, and for real-time surveillance. The Chinese test highlights the satellites' vulnerability.

"If we, for instance, got into a conflict over Taiwan, one of the first things they'd probably do would be to shoot down all of our lower Earth-orbit spy satellites, putting out our eyes," said John Pike of, a Web site that compiles information on worldwide security issues.

"The thing that is surprising and disturbing is that [the Chinese] have chosen this moment to demonstrate a military capability that can only be aimed at the United States," he said.
Again, maybe I'm being paranoid, but isn't it also strange that just a month later, the U.S. destroys one of it's own satellites, for all the world to see?

But Anyway. . . as long as you're here, read My Story II and give me some input, dammit! I plan to do this for money and acclaim and girls one day!


Bad Astronomy Blog Article

BBC Online Article on Spy Satellite

CNN Online Article on Chinese Missile Launch

*The title is based on Bill Murray's "Star Wars Song" from the early years of Saturday Night Live. I couldn't find the original clip, but I did find this video by DickSharpe80 which has the song on it.

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