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Speculation On the Doomed Satellite 229

Posted by kdawson
from the nro-doa dept.
scim writes "Intelligent speculation has led one knowledgeable observer to believe the satellite recently announced to have failed is a radar satellite named USA 193. According to an earlier story on the satellite: 'The experimental L-21 classified satellite, built for the National Reconnaissance Office at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, was launched successfully on Dec. 14 [2006] but has been out of touch since reaching its low-earth orbit.'" The ArmsControlWonk story leads off with what purports to be a photo from the ground of USA 193.
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Speculation On the Doomed Satellite

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  • My Backyard (Score:5, Funny)

    by acidradio (659704) on Monday January 28, 2008 @04:52AM (#22206152)
    If it lands in my backyard, I get to keep it. Just like the neighbor kid's frisbees and baseballs! That's only fair, right?
    • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Monday January 28, 2008 @04:58AM (#22206174)
      If it lands in your back yard, you get to spend 10 or 15 years in guantanamo bay to make sure you don't talk.
      • by rucs_hack (784150) on Monday January 28, 2008 @06:24AM (#22206518)
        If it lands in your back yard, you get to spend 10 or 15 years in guantanamo bay to make sure you don't talk.

        Nah, not unless they have a cell that's one milimeter high and fifty meters in radius, otherwise he wouldn't fit.
      • Enough already (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        This 'joke' is so tired. Show me ONE EXAMPLE of someone held in Gitmo who WAS NOT an ununiformed combatant fighting our troops or implementing terror attacks.

        There is plenty to bash the US for. Let's try to stick to facts instead of cheap mod point whoring with stupid jokes that have no basis in reality.

        Thanks. Have a nice day.
        • by Ihlosi (895663) on Monday January 28, 2008 @07:36AM (#22206850)
          Show me ONE EXAMPLE of someone held in Gitmo who WAS NOT an ununiformed combatant fighting our troops or implementing terror attacks.

          If he did, he'd probably get stuck into Gitmo for violating national security.

        • by Mr2cents (323101)
          Show me ONE EXAMPLE of someone held in Gitmo who WAS NOT an ununiformed combatant fighting our troops or implementing terror attacks.

          This must be one of the most retarded posts I've ever read here. Really, what have you been doing these last years? Have you never read a newspaper?

          Just to give you one link: http://www.talkleft.com/story/2006/01/17/822/22292 [talkleft.com]

          Did you know about the 9 Chinese detainees at Guantanamo? They are Uighurs, Muslims from western China, who are now in their 5th year of imprisonment. The Bush Administration acknowledged in 2004 they had been imprisoned by mistake and should be released since they are not enemy combatants. But they are still there. And Bush won't let them go.

          How did the USA get hold of all these prisoners? Are they people who surrendered in a fight? No, the army just put out a reward for turning in an "enemy

        • Show me ONE EXAMPLE of someone held in Gitmo who WAS NOT an ununiformed combatant fighting our troops or implementing terror attacks.

          Mamdouh Habib. [nytimes.com]

          You were saying?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by R2.0 (532027)
          "This 'joke' is so tired. Show me ONE EXAMPLE of someone held in Gitmo who WAS NOT an ununiformed combatant fighting our troops or implementing terror attacks."

          Give it up dude - that "troll" moderation tells you everything you need to know about the political environment here. I tried the exact same argument a while back, and all I got was a sputtering "Padilla!...Republicans!...Fascists!..."

          Of course, it will all be better when the Democrats take charge, right? Right?
          • by flibuste (523578)
            I tried the exact same argument a while back, and all I got was a sputtering "Padilla!...Republicans!...Fascists!..."

            How about "uneducated douchebag"?

            Making yourself an arse once in such way is already quite something. Bragging about it is close to psychological deficiency.

    • Re:My Backyard (Score:5, Insightful)

      by evanbd (210358) on Monday January 28, 2008 @05:03AM (#22206186)

      Yeah, have fun with the hydrazine.

      Personally, I wouldn't want to keep anything that's flammable, explosive, toxic, corrosive, carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic. At least it's not radioactive...

      • by Moonpie Madness (764217) on Monday January 28, 2008 @05:05AM (#22206206)
        If this thing lands in unfriendly lands, whatever's left will fetch a lot of money... or be subject to US airstrike.

        Maybe it will 'accidentally' land on Iran's nuke facility! I wish our peeps were that smart.

        • by dbIII (701233)
          Smart enough to go back to the good old days of a cold war so the war profiteers can get rich with little risk of a real war? Those days are long gone, won't be back and they were only good for some. It would be a real shooting war with millions dead and a lot of limbless veterans and widows in your home town even if it is fairly one sided. Add to that the disturbing new trend of a lot of new junkies in your home town to finance the insurgents - even the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban are happy to sell her
          • by Shakrai (717556) *

            Add to that the disturbing new trend of a lot of new junkies in your home town to finance the insurgents - even the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban are happy to sell heroin to buy weapons now.

            Sounds like a good reason to legalize drugs and take over the production of them ourselves, doesn't it? You don't hear about the Taliban financing their operations with booze or tobacco do you?

        • "Maybe it will 'accidentally' land on Iran's nuke facility! I wish our peeps were that smart."

          I sure don't hope so, because they don't have any ... your CIA themselves said they stopped developing it in 2003.

          But we can't let facts stand in the way of a good war, can we?
        • by RKBA (622932)
          "Maybe it will 'accidentally' land on Iran's nuke facility! I wish our peeps were that smart."

          Satellite could plummet to Earth [bbc.co.uk]

          In 2002, officials believe debris from a 7,000lbs (3,200-kg) science satellite hit the Earth's atmosphere. It rained down over the Gulf, a few thousand miles from where they first predicted it would crash.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by acidradio (659704)
        On a day like today, all of those things sound kinda fun!
      • by Arimus (198136)
        flammable? do you have a petrol powered car or lawnmower?

        explosive? see above. Do you use fertiliser? Keep diesel around? then don't mix the two?

        toxic? bleach used in the house? any insect/pest control poisons?

        corrosive? Most household cleaners...

        carcinogenic? do you smoke or ever sit near people who are? sit in traffic jams in your tinbox breathing the exhaust of the truck in front?

        Mutagenic? I'm sure if I could be bothered I'd find some household chemicals which when used incorrectly or mixed could tick t
        • Re:My Backyard (Score:4, Informative)

          by evanbd (210358) on Monday January 28, 2008 @12:37PM (#22209720)

          I suppose I wasn't clear on the details.

          Hydrazine is more flammable than gasoline, by a wide margin. Flammability limits in air are approximately 2% to 100% -- It's a monopropellant, so it doesn't actually need oxygen to burn (it's a fuel, though, so it will burn faster and hotter with oxygen). That makes it more flammable than even hydrogen. Fortunately it has a lower vapor pressure, so the flash point is somewhat elevated. As a fire hazard, I'd call gasoline worse, but hydrazine is plenty bad enough.

          Hydrazine is explosive by itself, without any additions of components. However, it's relatively insensitive, so this is really only a concern to industrial handlers, not to someone who finds a satellite crashed in their yard.

          Hydrazine is toxic well beyond the level of bleach. LD50 for skin contact is somewhere around a teaspoon -- a fairly minor spill. At levels well below that, it will cause *permanent* damage to your liver, kidneys, and probably others. There's nothing in your house where a small splash on your skin warrants a trip to the ER (and if there is, you must have some neat hobbies!).

          Hydrazine isn't as caustic as some household cleaners; this is mostly relevant when engineering with it, not for hazards of encountering it. It does mean it will eat away many sorts of gloves you might wear -- which makes the previous point and the next three relevant.

          It's not just that hydrazine is carcinogenic. Lots of things are carcinogenic in large quantities; a few are in any quantity. Hydrazine is one of the latter (obviously risk level depends on exposure). Some chemicals your body can safely metabolize small amounts of without any increased risk; hydrazine is not one of these. What makes hydrazine so nasty is that, combined with the degree of potency. Monomethyl hydrazine (I don't have data handy for straight hydrazine, which is less nasty; the satellite could well be using straight hydrazine as a monopropellant or MMH or UDMH as a fuel in a bipropellant; all three are commonly used) is one of the most potent carcinogens known. One study showed that a carefully sized single drop of MMH on the skin of lab rats caused cancer in 90%. They had to be careful to keep the drop size down so that it didn't kill the rats by being toxic, though.

          Mutagenic and teratogenic are nasty at similar levels; the effects are just slightly different than being carcinogenic. Planning on having kids you want to be healthy? Don't handle hydrazine derivatives.

          Now, all that said, with sufficient budget and in the right setting it can be handled mostly safely. "Some thing landed in my backyard; I think I'll get a souvenir" is not that setting. And, depending on the design of the satellite, it's entirely possible a mostly undamaged propellant tank could survive reentry -- similar components have done so previously on other satellite reentries, and on Columbia.

          You're surrounded by low level background risks, and things that you shouldn't drink. Hydrazine goes well beyond that -- you'd do better to think of it as a chemical weapon that happens to be to slow to be useful as such. It's only mildly less potent than some of them.

    • by Zymergy (803632) * on Monday January 28, 2008 @05:27AM (#22206278)
      I would hope that it does not contain an RTG or other nuclear components... but RTG's are said to be able to survive reentry... ,Ahem! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator [wikipedia.org]
      Recall that some of our older satellites had Polonium 210 coatings applied to some surfaces which could not be allowed to become frozen (batteries, etc.) in the deep cold of space (including parts of our Apollo Lunar Rover if my memory serves). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polonium [wikipedia.org]

      Wait a minute!!!, Wasn't this the secondary plot to G.I. Jane?
      • by Cyberax (705495)
        RTGs? That's puny!

        Russian radar satellites had the whole _nuclear_ _reactors_ (one of them crashed somewhere in Canada)!

        See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RORSAT [wikipedia.org]
      • by Zoxed (676559) on Monday January 28, 2008 @06:40AM (#22206580) Homepage
        > I would hope that it does not contain an RTG or other nuclear components.

        This was the first thing I thought of when I read the same story at BBC News [bbc.co.uk]. But that article says the fuel is hydrazine.

        (But as the source was anonymous, and the satellite is US Military, that leak could just be a PR move !!)
        • by icebrain (944107) on Monday January 28, 2008 @06:56AM (#22206676)
          I really doubt you'll see any RTGs on an earth-orbit satellite. It's a lot cheaper and easier just to use solar panels; RTGs are reserved for deep space missions or other things where solar panels lose effectiveness due to distance (Jupiter/Saturn adn beyond), dust (MSL rover), or extended shadow (moon surface experiments).
          • by Ihlosi (895663)
            I really doubt you'll see any RTGs on an earth-orbit satellite.



            Probably not an RTG, but you may well see a real nuclear reactor on earth-orbit satellites. IIRC the Soviet Union had some satellites that were powered this way, and I'd be surprised if the US didn't.

          • by Tom Womack (8005)
            The RTG references for this are, I think, mostly traceable back to

            http://www.space.com/news/nasa_plutonium_020724.html [space.com]

            which indicates that 'for reasons of national security' one RTG-worth of plutonium-238 had been reclaimed from NASA about five years ago.

            There are various national-security applications for plutonium-238 - it's perfect stuff for powering, for example, bits of equipment to sit in a cave in Afghanistan or next to an undersea cable off Taiwan quietly recording all that passes to be collected la
        • bzzt (Score:3, Informative)

          by darkwhite (139802)
          Hydrazine powers rocket engines/orbital thrusters. RTGs power spacecraft electrical systems. Use of hydrazine in fuel cells is very rare. Nothing prevents a spacecraft from having both on board.

          It's not clear, however, why a satellite in a highly elliptical orbit would use RTGs instead of solar panels. It's not like it gets a lot of stealth that way, since apparently it's still very visible by radar and even telescope.
          • by Zoxed (676559)
            > Hydrazine powers rocket engines/orbital thrusters. RTGs power spacecraft electrical systems. Use of hydrazine in fuel cells is very rare. Nothing prevents a spacecraft from having both on board.

            Yep: you are right. My mistake !!
    • A landowner gets to keep a meteorite that falls on his property under the doctrine of first possession, but a satellite would be different. Finder's doctrine would apply. Basically, if no one came to claim the satellite, the landowner would own it so far as everyone else's rights are concerned, but a finder's right of ownership is not good against the original owner who has every legal right to come and claim it. You can bet that the US government is pretty likely to come looking for it. (This analysis
  • by frankenheinz (976104) on Monday January 28, 2008 @05:17AM (#22206240)
    Can't the Chinese just shoot it down for us? http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/space/01/18/china.missile/index.html [cnn.com]
    • It took more than 6 times for them to do it, so not likely. Of course, I suspect that the will be trying to do just that. Or we could see the shuttle try to recover it after setting up the ISS. The reality is that sats like this do not use solar cells. They are designed to not reflect light to hide in the blackness of space. This will have uranium onboard. So, we are going to see something done to bring it down nicely (or send it away).
      • It's visible as a bright spot in the sky to the naked eye, as are many such Satellites. Most conjecture is that it DID have Solar Panels that failed to deploy. It's not a stealth satellite; it's a huge camera.
    • The US could shoot it (and probably hit it on the first try...) but the US could no more shoot it _down_ than the Chinese could. Hitting it with an anti-satellite missile would just bust it into pieces about the same size as the ones it will break up into when it hits the upper atmosphere. Just as much stuff would hit the ground but less predictably.
  • Will it burn up? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hax0r_this (1073148) on Monday January 28, 2008 @05:35AM (#22206306)
    I've always thought that things coming down from space have a tendency to burn up in the atmosphere, but on the other hand chunks of that space shuttle landed all over the place. Can someone who knows what they're talking about enlighten me as to how much of this satellite is likely to survive?

    Which brings me to something else: do these satellites have some sort of self destruct mechanism? What was to stop, say, the Soviets or Chinese from going up and physically stealing a very expensive satellite that presumably contains technology/information we don't want them getting their hands on?
    • by RuBLed (995686)
      It will burn up definitely and the debris could be much less than the space shuttle columbia. It only measures around 13 meters, less than a fourth of the shuttle so I guess if it breaks up in several pieces, we could just see debris the size of a couch or something...
    • Re:Will it burn up? (Score:5, Informative)

      by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Monday January 28, 2008 @05:57AM (#22206396)
      I've always thought that things coming down from space have a tendency to burn up in the atmosphere, but on the other hand chunks of that space shuttle landed all over the place. Can someone who knows what they're talking about enlighten me as to how much of this satellite is likely to survive?

      Most of it will burn up on reentry. Depending on how large it is and the materials used, there will probably be many small pieces of debris reaching the ground across hundreds of miles.

      Which brings me to something else: do these satellites have some sort of self destruct mechanism? What was to stop, say, the Soviets or Chinese from going up and physically stealing a very expensive satellite that presumably contains technology/information we don't want them getting their hands on?

      The same thing that stops them from say seizing a US ship somewhere on the ocean and ripping out its radar and other technology. Its piracy and it would invite if not all out war then at least some sort of major retaliation by the US.
      • by Sique (173459)
        You mean, they just do it and tell no one? And the CIA, which knows about this, keeps its mouth shut because otherwise the Chinese would reveal more domestic spying programs?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nacturation (646836)

      I've always thought that things coming down from space have a tendency to burn up in the atmosphere, but on the other hand chunks of that space shuttle landed all over the place.

      The atmosphere isn't a lightsaber that will completely destroy everything that touches it. For a fast-moving object, it's more like a welding torch that tries to burn away as much as it can. If the object is large enough, not all of it will burn up before the object is slowed to the point where it no longer generates enough friction to burn.

    • by jaminJay (1198469) on Monday January 28, 2008 @08:55AM (#22207368) Homepage
      More importantly, will it blend?
    • What was to stop, say, the Soviets or Chinese from going up and physically stealing a very expensive satellite that presumably contains technology/information we don't want them getting their hands on?

      Because doing so (stealing a satellite) is a Very Very Hard Problem that will cost billions do to, for very little return. (As well as being Very Obvious as to who did it.)
  • oh no!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Runagate Rampant (602123) on Monday January 28, 2008 @05:47AM (#22206342)
    A communications disruption could mean only one thing: invasion
  • A quick blast with the anti-satellite [slashdot.org] weapon from China and we'd all be saved! :)
  • In Russian book
    by P. Makovetski this problem has been throughly discussed:
    http://n-t.ru/ri/mk/sk030.htm [n-t.ru]
    (Automatic Google English translationhttp://translate.google.com/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fn-t.ru%2Fri%2Fmk%2Fsk030.htm&langpair=ru%7Cen&hl=ru&ie=UTF-8 [google.com])
    The short result is that this satellite has a 5 times more likely to land in Antarctica than in Africa.
    • The short result is that this satellite has a 5 times more likely to land in Antarctica than in Africa.
      Oh no! The cute penguins!!
  • by ideonode (163753) on Monday January 28, 2008 @07:10AM (#22206734)
    Intelligent speculation has led one knowledgeable observer....

    But I thought that god did not play dice...
  • From TFA:
    Limited data received from the satellite indicated that its on-board computer tried rebooting several times, but those efforts failed, said one official, who is knowledgeable about the program and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Let me guess: they forgot to disable the keyboard check within the BIOS on the satellite.

    KEYBOARD ERROR OR KEYBOARD NOT FOUND - PRESS [F1] TO CONTINUE [F2] FOR SETUP
  • Hmm...given the current thinking of our 'administration' what are the chances that this bird actually has some sort of weaponry on-board? Space nukes, perhaps?

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