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Call In the Military To Blast Rogue Satellite? 243

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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  • No, and no (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:42AM (#32194120)

    As was clearly stated the last time we had this exact discussion:

    - far too high for the space shuttle
    - most assuredly too high for most anti-sat missiles

  • Space shuttle (Score:3, Informative)

    by catbutt ( 469582 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:42AM (#32194122)
    Doesn't come anywhere close to geosynchronous orbit (22,000 miles high)
  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:43AM (#32194136)

    Stuff does not deorbit like a syfy movie.

    I would think the tightly contained 1 big bit of a satellite is much safer than the thousands of little tiny parts in all sorts of orbits you are going to get if you try and destroy the one big bit.

  • They can't (Score:5, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:45AM (#32194188)

    The US doesn't appear to have a system capable of destroying something at that orbit.

    Now the first paragraph in the article is just full of ignorance.

    "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?"

    Again, the military hasn't demonstrated the ability to hit things in that orbit. The Shuttle can't go that high.

    The F-15 launched ASM-135 ASAT - [] - could go up to 350 miles.
    USA-193 was destroyed at 130 miles

    Galaxy 15 is at 22,230 miles

  • by franknagy ( 56133 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:45AM (#32194194) Homepage

    The wayward satellite is in (or near) geosychronous orbit (23+K miles up). The shuttle cannot
    reach that orbit, being limited to a couple of hundred miles altitude. Similarly, the anti-satellite
    weapons are only designed for low orbit satellites (spy satellites and other military targets).

    Now, if we had ever gone ahead and build the interorbit taxi/transport as an adjunct to
    the space station (either robotic or manned), we would have a solution to the problem.
    Right now we are stuck.

  • by yincrash ( 854885 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:47AM (#32194224)
    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.
  • short answer? No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:49AM (#32194246)

    Long answer? No. And this is why.

    This satellite is in geosynchronous orbit. A shuttle mission is not an option, the orbit is to high. Retasking an ICBM or other missile to intercept is not an option, the orbit is to high.

    Lasers could be an option, if one existed with the right power and accuracy. This thing is thousands of miles farther than any destructive laser has ever been targeted. Then you have to deal with not just a meandering satellite but possibly a cloud of debris capable of knocking out other satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:49AM (#32194260) Journal

    When China does it, the world protests. [] all the space junk created. However, when the US does it, it's to save other satellites.

    The US did it before China and people were very critical []:

    The official explanation – that the US wanted to prevent the toxic contents of the spacecraft's fuel tank from hitting the ground – seems a bit thin, according to James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thus critics from around the world have speculated about ulterior motives, ranging from a desire to test US ballistic missile defenses to poking China in the eye.

    It's a sort of anti-satellite arms race and status thing between two super power. Or in playground terms, the two assholes are having a dick measuring contest [].

  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:53AM (#32194328)

    Well, the two shots were Apples and Oranges.

    USA-193 was in a decaying orbit at 130 miles and most of the debris de orbited within a couple weeks. It was hit by a small SM-3 surface to air missile, 21 feet long, 3,000 pounds

    FY-1C was in a stable polar orbit at 537 miles and it's destruction increased the amount of space debris by 12%. The missile that hit it was a DF-21, 35 feet long, 30,000 pounds

  • Re:Shuttle? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:54AM (#32194344)

    Shuttle makes it to LEO just fine, there's no "barely" about it.

  • by colonelquesadilla ( 1693356 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:55AM (#32194350)
    Yeah but it's in geostationary orbit, that's way up there, it's not like in LEO where you still get a lot of atmospheric drag.
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @11:56AM (#32194378)
    The amount of debris generated would further 'pollute' the orbit around earth....
  • by Goldenhawk ( 242867 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:01PM (#32194466) Homepage

    In case you don't remember, stuff traveling at orbital velocities is positively lethal to spacecraft. The extreme energies involved in these kinds of impacts is enough to send very high velocity fragments in all directions. Sure, some of it will de-orbit, but most will end up in fairly stable orbits that will EVENTUALLY intersect all the other satellites up there. So blowing up one rogue satellite makes one very annoying but eminently predictable problem into a thousand lethal and unpredictable problems.

    Last February, a Russian satellite hit a commercial Iridium satellite, and the resulting debris cloud (estimated near 600 pieces in various orbits) has been a HUGE headache for everyone in similar orbital altitudes. [] []

    In 2008, the US got criticized around the world for blowing up a falling satellite because of the health threats of hydrazine if it landed in a populated area. Aside from complaints about military showboating, there were many scientists who complained about the resulting orbital debris; however, in reality it was a very low-altitude explosion and the debris cloud did de-orbit very quickly (unlike a geosynchronous orbit explosion, which would leave practically permanent debris due to the orbit well above any appreciable atmospheric drag). []

    Read here for some details on the general problems with orbital debris. []

    So no more helpful suggestions like this, please.

  • by smoothnorman ( 1670542 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:05PM (#32194510)
    Buck-Henry has the plans already drawn up... [] "...Quark is an American science fiction situation comedy starring Richard Benjamin ... May 7, 1977 (canceled in April 1978). Quark was created by Buck Henry, ...The show was set on the United Galaxies Sanitation Patrol Cruiser, an interstellar garbage scow operating out of United Galaxies Space Station Perma One in the year 2222. Adam Quark, the main character, works to clean up trash in space by collecting "space baggies"..."
  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:06PM (#32194512) Homepage

    That's pretty much what is done with failed GEO satellites - the problem with this one is that navigation and control failed but the payload is still active and they can't turn it off.

  • by NonSenseAgency ( 1759800 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:06PM (#32194514)
    The X-37B, the Space Shuttle, all current anti-satellite missiles, in short all systems that the military currently acknowledges having cannot reach far enough to "destroy" the satellite. Such an outcome is not even desirable as it would turn the satellite into a field of orbiting buckshot that would "mostly" remain in the same orbit. Which is to say some would not and would inevitably impact nearby satellites and possibly create more problems. Likewise, hitting it with a ground based laser, although probably doable, would not be a good idea. As it stands now, the satellite will not come back to Earth, there is no danger of reentry. It will most likely end up at the Lagrange point as has already been stated.
  • by starglider29a ( 719559 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:25PM (#32194752) []
    In particular, look at the panel of Earth, which is under Uranus and Neptune, lower right.

    Geez, XKCD should win the Pulitzer Prize for this graphic. If a picture is worth a KiloWord, this is worth a MegaWord of explanation. This should be required viewing in all 8th Grade science classes.
  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @02:07PM (#32196660) Homepage

    Makes sense to try to change orbit of the satellite, but given that it's in geostationary orbit it will sooner or later drift by itself into satellite graveyard area. There are locations in geostationary orbit that do attract satellites.

    Blowing up a satellite is one of the stupid ideas since it will cause a shitload of debris that can damage other satellites and be a problem for placing other satellites in orbit.

  • by Larson2042 ( 1640785 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @02:12PM (#32196770)
    FYI, I am an aerospace engineer involved in the launch industry. Typically, how a spacecraft gets into GEO is a few stage process. First, a launch vehicle (Delta IV, Atlas V, Ariane 5, etc) puts you into orbit. What almost always happens is that the orbit the launch vehicle deposits the satellite into is a geosynchronous transfer orbit. This orbit is only useful as a, yes, transfer orbit out to actual geosynchronous orbit. From the transfer orbit, the spacecraft's own propulsion system then manuevers the craft into its designated position in GEO. But the launch vehicle itself is long gone. It takes all the delta-v the launch vehicle can deliver just to get the spacecraft into the GEO transfer orbit, so it would not be useful for doing anything else in orbit.

    The best way to deal with this rogue satellite would be to send out another one to very gently attach itself to the rogue and then push it into a disposal orbit (which for GEO is typically just a higher orbit outside GEO). Blowing up the rogue would only create a huge amount of debris that would then cause problems for basically everyone in GEO, since it couldn't all be tracked or controlled.
  • by theIsovist ( 1348209 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @02:14PM (#32196812)
    Little thing to note about Lagrange points... They are gravitational wells. They collect debre because the gravity in the system drags them there. it doesn't take any extra fuel to reach these, once you're caught in the correct gravitational field (as this satallite is), and as to why bother? they can't control the satallite, that's the core problem. it's drifting. info []
  • by Vectormatic ( 1759674 ) on Friday May 14, 2010 @04:26AM (#32204810)

    and with a small amount of C4 and some copper plates, you could add several shaped charges throughout the satelite to make any capturing vehicle look like swiss cheese once it closes its payload-bay doors.

    As for TFS, why the hell does it mention the shuttle? are there any /. editors ignorant enough to think the shuttle has the ability to reach GEO? Also the 10 second window mentioned for the 2008 takedown suggests a satelite in LEO, roughly 300 miles high, tops. Good luck shooting down anything at 22000 miles high with your navy destroyer..

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.