Satellite Shootdowns

Spy SatelliteThe U.S. announced today that it is going to shoot down one of its errant spy satellites rather than risk having its hydrazine-filled fuel tank fall and rupture in a populated area.

Although I enjoy a good conspiracy theory I don’t really believe in them; but in this case I think the Pentagon is using the concern over hydrazine merely as a PR tactic.  In my opinion the military has been chomping at the bit to test its anti-missile technology in a real scenario, and they will not/cannot let this opportunity slip by.

My reasoning is this:  Since when has the military machine been that concerned about a few lives here and there?  Since the end of bombing runs on Vieques?  Since the courts forced a stop to deafening whales with eardrum-shattering sonar?  Since the termination of the CIA’s LSD experiments in the ’60s?  Since the 18-month delay between the start of the Iraq war and the utilization of armored Humvees?  Aviation Week reports that the falling satellite’s danger zone is 20-30 yards, making the chance of a direct hit over a friendly community extremely remote.

Then there’s China, which successfully shot down one of its own satellites early last year.  This Administration and the Department of Defense have gone to great lengths to demonstrate their manhood through their carrot and stick diplomacy and are not to be outdone by some upstart country like China.

General James Cartwright indicated that the shootdown “…is a one-time deal” because of software changes needed to shoot down a satellite versus a ballistic missile.  I don’t buy that argument at all.  The math used to track and intercept a ballistic missile (which follows a parabolic path) and an orbiting satellite (which follows a circular path) are virtually the same.  While not trivial, the modifications are straightforward.

And then there’s the hydrazine itself.  Consider that over the years several mishaps have occurred shortly after launch, spewing hydrazine and other toxic gas clouds as well as debris over a wide area; yet the only article I can cite showing official concern over a hydrazine cloud or debris hitting the ground was after the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003.

It adds up to an over-eager defense department needing an excuse to try an experiment that they themselves would otherwise condemn – oh wait, they already did.


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