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Call In the Military To Blast Rogue Satellite? 243

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the star-wars-is-awesome dept.
coondoggie submitted a follow-up to the tale of the wandering satellite that might collide with other stuff in orbit. He asks "Will the military need to be called in to blow up the rogue Intelsat satellite meandering through Earth's orbit? Or maybe a NASA Space Shuttle could swing by and grab it? You may recall that in 2008, rather than risk that a large piece of a failing spy satellite would fall on populated areas, the government blasted it out of the sky. The physics of such a shot were complicated and the Navy had a less than 10-second window to hit the satellite as it passed over its ships in the Pacific Ocean. But it worked. Now word comes that a five-year-old Intelsat TV satellite is meandering in orbit and attempts to control it have proven futile. At issue now is that the satellite could smash into other satellites or ramble into other satellite orbits and abscond with their signals."
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Call In the Military To Blast Rogue Satellite?

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  • Shuttle? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TamCaP (900777) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:44AM (#32194172)
    The part about the shuttle is obviously a joke, right? It can barely make it to the LEO, it is not able to reach a very highly located geosynchronous orbit. + why would you want to risk the lives of the crew and send a completely crazy unscheduled mission? And for some cheapo (in space terms) comms satellite? If they will send anything, it will be an unmanned mission, but even this is unlikely.
  • Best to move it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MpVpRb (1423381) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:50AM (#32194274)

    Blowing it up would create a huge cloud of debris...very bad.

    It's in geostationary orbit (~22000 miles), so it's way beyond the shuttle altitude.

    Maybe somebody could develop a small space "tug" that could be launched to intercept it, and gently push it out of the way?

    Probably a lot harder to actually do than to speculate about, and it would probably take years, and cost millions.

    So...no easy answers.

  • by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:55AM (#32194348)

    many little bits have much more surface area which increases friction to cause it to fall to Earth much quicker and have a much much higher chance of burning up completely on the way down.

    Problem is, there's a period of time when those little bits are made from that one big bit, and when those little bits deorbit. During that time, those little bits can choose to impact other satellites in the same or lower orbits, which causes the impacted satellites to have more little bits ripped off and sent flying around.

    That's one of the big problems we have right now - we could reach a point where space junk contributes to making more space junk by destroying working satellites which cause a nice chain reaction as that new space junk has increased the chances a satellite will get hit.

    The other thing is Galaxy 15 is at or near GEO. Which means those pieces will take a long time to deorbit, and with random orbits there's a good change they'll take out other satellites in GEO as well. Best to just let it naturally find a new equilibrium position at one of the Lagrange points. At least if it breaks up there those pieces will tend to stay there.

  • A space bulldozer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@@@comcast...net> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:56AM (#32194372)

    We need a maneuverable satellite dedicated to cleaning up our garbage. It could find a wayward satellite or piece of space debris and push it down into the atmosphere to burn up at a safe time and place. Call it a space bulldozer.

    Any nation that has put up more than a token number of satellites should take the responsible action and put up a bulldozer satellite. They can then go around and work on slowly cleaning up their messes. Space is littered with an incredible amount of junk, and it would benefit everyone to clear it up.

    We make messes on Earth and they tend to get cleaned up (at least in most first world countries). Why should outer space be any different? Just like on Earth, the mess doesn't go away on it's own and inevitably being ignored just makes the problems get worse and worse.

    Certainly in the long run this would be cheaper than dedicated rocket launches to get just one thing at a time and would create less debris than simply blowing it up.

  • What about (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal (1427207) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:56AM (#32194376)
    Okay I'm not an expert on how they get satellites up to geosynchronous orbit, but it seems to me the most expedient way would be to re-purpose what ever delivery system they use to get the things up there in the first place.
  • Re:They can't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by denis-The-menace (471988) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:00PM (#32194448)

    Even if the US would have such a capability they would not tip their hand to show it off.
    Why show your enemies what you can really do?

  • by idontgno (624372) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:03PM (#32194492) Journal

    Friction? In a Clarke orbit?

    The only interactions the "many little bits" are likely to participate in would have unpredictable orbital effects (like boosting fragments into more elliptical but semi-stable orbits, threatening more orbital space), and also more likely to have cause high-velocity collision damage to other spacecraft at the same orbital altitude and node.

  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:11PM (#32194584) Journal

    but that's got to be safer and less expensive than a missile.... right?

    How do you think the satellite would get up there? It would ride on the top of a rocket. The only difference between a rocket and a missile is the intended usage thereof.

  • Re:What about (Score:3, Insightful)

    by idontgno (624372) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:14PM (#32194626) Journal

    That's the closest thing I've heard to a sensible approach (other than "leave the damn thing alone, it's not doing any real harm.")

    Barring extensive magical thinking, the only thing which can get up to geosync orbit is another geosync vehicle, using an appropriate heavy-lift booster programmed and sequenced to insert SOMETHING into a not-quite-rendezvous geosync orbit. Then the SOMETHING has to maneuver into rendezvous and do its thing. (Fix the broken satellite, grappel and do a de-orbit burn, whatever.)

    So, the problem isn't repurposing the delivery system. The problem is what to deliver. The rendezvous-and-deorbit spacecraft doesn't exist. There's nothing helpful to deliver.

  • by d1r3lnd (1743112) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:14PM (#32194628)

    Actually, space debris will clean itself up over time... the question is just how long it will take.

    Launching a "space bulldozer" would then require periodic refueling, add in the risk of the space dozer itself becoming an orbital hazard (do you think orchestrating collisions between the space dozer and its targets would be easy and reliable?)... it's not exactly a feasible solution at the moment.

    What you're suggesting is a bit like suggesting that we keep a refueling tanker in the air at all times, just in case any commercial jets run out of fuel.

  • by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster.man@gWELTYmail.com minus author> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:45PM (#32195136)

    If it's deprecated and in GEO, it probably has no method to latch onto the other satellite (too much weight for no forseeable purpose) and insufficient propellant (why do you think we deprecate most GEO satellites?). It's a non-starter.

  • Re:They can't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [retawriaf]> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @01:10PM (#32195566) Homepage

    Even if the US would have such a capability they would not tip their hand to show it off. Why show your enemies what you can really do?

    On the contrary, the US routinely tips their hand about (most of) the capabilities of its military equipment. If the other guys don't know what you can do, then they aren't deterred.

  • Re:No, and no (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maxwells_deamon (221474) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @01:29PM (#32195934) Homepage

    I agree with this. I think the only thing that makes sense (if it is even possible) is some sort of laser/radiation pulse that would cook the electronics on the sat without causing debris.

    I would guess the millitary has a way of doing this, but it is probably quite classified and you would in theory need permission of the owner.

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @01:55PM (#32196398) Homepage Journal

    From what I've read, the most severe impact of this drifting, nonresponsive bird is that it is repeating all RF it is receiving, which will not only interfere with any other birds it goes by, but is polluting the spectrum.

    So, if this is the worst effect, then just disabling it would be a real plus, and dodging it as G15 drifts out of harm's way is just a matter of waiting.

    THIS would be a job for a laser. Cut off the solar panels, burn holes in it until it stops transmitting, it might not take much to kill this bird. Blowing it up just causes a debris field, though strapping or clipping a PAM onto it could let them drive it somewhere safe, like the ocean... Burning up in the atmosphere would be a good resolution right now.

    Losing GCCS (or is it WAAS?) is unfortunate, and I don't know if there is a backup. Must be. :)

To thine own self be true. (If not that, at least make some money.)

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