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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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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:40AM (#32194082) Journal

    Call In the Military To Blast Rogue Satellite?

    Look at it this way, they've already demonstrated to the rest of the world that their toys can knock your toys out of the sky. And that is the unquestioned belief right now which is why China had to run a similar test [bbc.co.uk] ... er "emergency to save other satellites." Why jeopardize your status as anti-satellite super power to actually do something positive?

  • by Cassini2 (956052) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:48AM (#32194238)

    It is really important to not detonate a missile against a satellite. Essentially, it results in a bunch of high-velocity projectiles, that destroy other satellites in the area. People will be quite upset if you detonate a satellite in geosynchronous orbit and destroy a bunch of other satellites in the process.

    A more realistic option would be to send a robot into orbit, and have it carefully push the errant satellite into a higher or lower orbit. The key technical issue is that satellites are deliberately made to be delicate to save weight. It is tough to get hold of and push into different orbit without the satellite breaking apart.

  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:57AM (#32194382) Journal

    They've also got a fleet of E-3 AWACS. Technically they belong to the NATO alliance, but they had to be registered with some country under ICAO regulations, so Luxembourg was chosen.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:57AM (#32194396)

    The US tests during the Cold War? Or the more recent US test that used no explosives and did not create any space junk*?

    * Rather, the satellite was so low that the "junk" immediately de-orbited and burned up.

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:59AM (#32194434) Journal

    Thanks. I came here to ask whether this didn’t just increase the space debris and your comment pretty well answered my question.

  • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:00AM (#32194446) Journal

    ok, other already pointed that the shuttle and military interceptors can't reach geosychronous orbit, but about satelites that are already there ?

    isn't there any old, almost decomissioned satelite near that orbit that is:

    a) still under control from ground station
    b) with fuel enough to manouver to galaxy 15's orbit ?

    it doesn, t need to be a big impact, just a slow relative speed collision to nudge G15 to either deorbit it or send it to a lagrange point.

  • No, and no. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:02AM (#32194476) Homepage

    "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?

    What? The answer is no, and no.

    First, this satellite is at geosynchronous orbit altitude. That is a hundred times higher than the altitude of the satellite that was downed by the ground-based missile. You can't reach it with that weapon, and you absolutely, certainly can't "grab it" with the space shuttle. No. Not even close. Not even close to close.

    Also, note that the satellite that was downed was in very low orbit. The significance of that was that all the pieces of it were in very low orbit, and hence they decayed in the atmosphere within a very short time of its destruction. The very worst, stupidest possible thing ever to do would be to "blow up the rogue satellite," because debris from a blown-up satellite in geosynchronous orbit would not decay, but would stay in the geosynchronous orbit pretty much forever. This would be a very bad thing.

  • Until it passes in front of stars, planets, or the moon, or the sun reflects off it. 2-3 observations over a few hours is plenty enough to pin down an orbit. Changing orbit takes a fair bit of energy. While I assume this can do it, it can't do it all the time.

    Stealth works for airplanes because they can change altitude and direction easily. It's not nearly as useful for stuff in orbit.

    Like I said, there's not much to hide behind in space. Unless the X-37 is transparent, it's not going to hide in orbit.
  • by TheSync (5291) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @01:57PM (#32197678) Journal

    The Laser Weapon Calculator [5596.org] says that at a distance of 35,786 km, a laser with a wavelength of 2.9e-7m, to vaporize 1cm of aluminum, you would need a 1.0 GW laser operating for 1 second with a lens 20m radius.

    The most powerful CW lasers used currently are of MW class, not GW, such as the COIL laser on the Airborne Laser Testbed [fas.org]. It's wavelength is 1.3um, so let's imagine you can run it at 1MW and hold it on target for 100s, to vaporize 1cm of aluminum you'd need a 200m radius lens....even if you crank the laser up to 10 MW, you still need a 90m radius lens.

    Currently the largest effective aperture of any telescope is ~11m.

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