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Space United States Science

Expensive U.S. Spy Satellite Not Working 251

Penguinshit writes to mention a Reuters article about some trouble the U.S. is having communicating with a spy satellite. The sensor package was launched last year by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It has apparently hung in a low orbit for months now, and efforts to communicate with it have been unsuccessful. From the article: "The official said the problems were substantial and involved multiple systems, adding that U.S. officials were working to reestablish contact with the satellite because of the importance of the new technology it was meant to test and demonstrate. The other source said the satellite had been described to him as 'a comprehensive failure.' There was no suggestion by either of the sources that the satellite had been purposely damaged as part of a terrorist attack. Another government official said he had no information about any attacks on U.S. satellites."
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Expensive U.S. Spy Satellite Not Working

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  • Terrorism? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by despe666 ( 802244 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:53PM (#17578024)
    If another country launched a spy satellite and the US destroyed it, it wouldn't be terrorism, it would be self-defense. Why would it be any different the other way around?
  • by Phil246 ( 803464 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:56PM (#17578086)
    why mention it? Why raise the 'boogeyman' of terrorism for something unrelated to it, other then to reinforce the culture of fear created.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:56PM (#17578096)
    Come on now - a terrorist attack? I really think that any reporter or journalist that's gotten to the point of asking if terrorists are involved every time something goes wrong should be fired, or at least whacked with a Clue Stick and put on probation or something.

    "Huh. This turkey sandwich I got from the commissary is a little dry today..."
    "Really? Do you think it could be some kind of terrorist attack on Lunchtime?!"

  • by RelaxedTension ( 914174 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:56PM (#17578104)
    If anyone actually did something to kill the satellite, there is a list of countries that I would suspect long before looking at terrorists. Countries like China, Russia, etc., have greater reason, not to mention resources, to damage an orbiting satellite.

    Why is always terrorists that are the culprits when something goes wrong? The nations that used espionage before the "War On Terror" are still there, and still have vested interest in denying the US the ability to spy on them.
  • terrorists??!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by no reason to be here ( 218628 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @02:57PM (#17578114) Homepage
    does anybody else feel that the mention of terrorists in this article is just absofuckinglutely retarded? that anyone, for even an instant, seriously entertained the notion that any terrorist group has both the capacity and wherewithal to take out something in LEO, UNDETECTED, is beyond idiotic.

    we must be living in the bizarro universe.
  • Re:WTF (Score:2, Insightful)

    by arootbeer ( 808234 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:05PM (#17578270)
    You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks^H^H^H^H^H^Hterrorists with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!
  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:12PM (#17578396) Homepage Journal
    I'd be hard pressed to call it "terrorism" in either case. Most definitions of "terrorism" that I'm aware of describe attacks against civilian rather than military targets, whose goal is to cause more harm than the actual physical damage by provoking fear.

    In this case it could conceivably be that a terrorist organization also sabotaged a military target, but that would not be an act of terrorism in and of itself. That's more like conventional espionage. The military knows that it is a target and is capable of responding, and so it's generally considered a valid target. The world gives a kind of grudging acceptance of your right to do it.

    The third general requirement of terrorism, as compared to a valid military attack, is that the enemy hides itself. If the US takes out somebody's spy satellite, you know where the US is if you want to engage in a military response. Al Qaeda doesn't have such a place. This isn't just a playing semantics; it goes back to the civilian/military distinction. When a true terrorist organization attacks the US, civilians nominally on their own side die when the US counterattacks. By contrast, to attack the US there are valid targets.

    (This gets a bit murky in espionage, where you do hide among the civilians, and that's the closest the US comes to true terrorism, at least for its avowed activities. We can discuss the various covert CIA activities later, but there's so much misinformation that it's hard to know what's real and what's paranoia.)

    Terrorism comes much closer to Clausewitz's "total war". Why should any opponent restrict itself to "valid" military targets and make itself known to counterattacks? No reason, except that the end of "total war" is always the complete destruction of one side: if you engage in it you're putting lives at risk out of proportion to your goals. That will earn the world's opprobrium, and perhaps that opprobrium will increase the chance of your defeat, but beyond that it's your choice.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:15PM (#17578460) Homepage
    Don't ascribe to malice that which can adequately explained by incompetence.

    In other words, We have met the enemy and he is us.

  • by starfire-1 ( 159960 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:31PM (#17578758)
    I've said it before and I'll say it again. Building, launching and fly a spacecraft is complex and difficult. But ever since the mid 1990's the industry thinks that cutting costs (which inevitably means cutting late life cycle costs such as operations) can be overcome with automation and hand-waving. The launch vehicle gets the spacecraft off the ground, but then some silly operations error or engineering flaw not uncovered by operations results in a catastrophic failure (e.g. JPL/Mars English vs. Metric debacle). Back in the day - agencies fully funded operations personnel that shook out both procedural and engineering defects ahead of time. Just because an agency doesn't/can't pay for the same level of effort in today's fiscal environment does not mean that these types of defects magically disappear.

    It used to be said that of "Better, faster, cheaper," you could only have two out of three. As time goes on, I wonder if these expectations are too high.

    Space missions have cost overruns for sure, but in my experience those overruns come from unrealistically low bids from major vendors and the fact that these dinosaur companies build spacecraft in pretty much the same way as they always have. They used to run of of money about a year before launch and they still run out of money a year before launch. IMHO, the only way to reduce the frequency of catatrophic failure is for early life cycle vendors to becore more efficient so there are funds for operations to shake out the bugs before it gets up on orbit.
  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by inviolet ( 797804 ) <slashdot AT ideasmatter DOT org> on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:33PM (#17578782) Journal

    Well said.

    This issue was illustrated nicely (and horribly) in the Vietnam war. When the Vietnamese resorted to "total war" tactics, like putting bombs in picnic baskets carried by young girls, it changed the necessary response from their enemy. Their enemy (the US) now had to consider all civilians as potential combatants -- eventually, as likely combatants. Voila, you get Mai Lai and other unpleasantness.

    American civilians back home condemned the attacks on civilians, but only because they didn't understand the aforementioned. They still don't.

    Meanwhile, American soldiers suffered abnormal psychological harm because their survival required them to begin killing 'civilians', including women and children. It ended poorly for everyone, although I suppose the VC regard it as a triumphant "peoples' uprising" or some such euphemism.

    al-Quaida and al-Aqsah and their ilk are skipping down the same path, by hiding in and among civilians. Normally this would necessitate flattening whole neighborhoods in which they've got their caches and arty hidden, so let us praise the US military for the expensive restraint it is showing in this situation. Historically, it is utterly unprecedented.

    But only the affected civilians can stop it. There's a great quote from Gen. Robert E. Lee about this. While conquering the South, he burned many farms and homesteads as he went. An old woman appealed him to spare her farm. He replied (more or less) "Ma'am, I can't stop this war. Only you can. But you won't until you feel the real cost."

  • Say what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nsayer ( 86181 ) * <nsayer&kfu,com> on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:36PM (#17578834) Homepage
    There was no suggestion by either of the sources that the satellite had been purposely damaged as part of a terrorist attack.

    What kind of bullshit fear-mongering is this? There was no suggestion that it was caused by Martian attack or canabalism in the British Navy either. Why not mention that?

  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by colman77 ( 689696 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:45PM (#17579038)
    Why does this even mention terrorism? Go back and read that again. "There was no suggestion by either of the sources that the satellite had been purposely damaged as part of a terrorist attack." Duh. Last time I checked, spy satellites were not exactly high-profile ordeals, making them less-than-desirable targets for any kind of terrorist. So then WHY include that sentence? Power of suggestion? Keep terrorism in our collective consciousness? Why is it there?
  • by BillX ( 307153 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @03:59PM (#17579322) Homepage
    On the other hand, these *real* men and women had lofty goals of exploring strange new worlds and furthering the human base of scientific knowledge. They might be less than receptive to the idea of risking their asses to run up and hit the reset switch on a bricked piece of spy equipment. :-)
  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nietsch ( 112711 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @04:40PM (#17580310) Homepage Journal

    American civilians back home condemned the attacks on civilians, but only because they didn't understand the aforementioned. They still don't.

    Meanwhile, American soldiers suffered abnormal psychological harm because their survival required them to begin killing 'civilians', including women and children. It ended poorly for everyone, although I suppose the VC regard it as a triumphant "peoples' uprising" or some such euphemism.

    Well, it is not only the former vietcong that regards 'vietnam' as a major defeat for the US, and thus a bloody victory for Vietnam, the whole world (minus the US-minority) does so. As for understanding for attacks on civilians: none is ever justified. Not then in Vietnam, not now in Iraq. Killing people is always wrong, but killing innocents is even worse. What part of 'thou shalt not kill' do you not understand?

  • Re:O0ps... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @05:07PM (#17580868) Journal
    Not working. Sure. I believe that. It's up there and it's, ahem, NOT WORKING. See, we can't really see that there's a pot plant growing in the backyard of the house that's 3 from the corner of Halsted and Magnolia. And we can't see that brunette sunbathing nude at Latitude 39.518 Longitude -71.426.

    Right. The old "tell them it doesn't really work" routine. Gotta give those spooks credit for creativity on this one.
  • OT:Terrorism? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @05:57PM (#17581758) Journal
    Attacking a valid military target is still a de facto declaration of war. The question is: Who exactly declared war on us, and what are we going to do about it?

    Pakistan, the U.K., and even Canada may "grudgingly accept" attacks on "Valid US targets." The US does not have that option if it wishes to remain an intact, sovereign state.
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday January 12, 2007 @06:54PM (#17582748)
    While I agree that we are being to paranoid, I don't think that simply making us paranoid is what Al Quaeda is after. We are not speaking Arabic, converted to Islam, we have not spilled our liquor, and we are not paying a head tax - so no, I don't think that they've won.

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith