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February 16, 2008

The Blog Posts, They Write Themselves
Posted by Patrick at 02:24 PM *

US government to shoot down malfunctioning 5,000-pound spy satellite. Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?

Comments on The Blog Posts, They Write Themselves:
#1 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 02:52 PM:

Nothing could go wrong. This is the government.

Seriously though, that is interesting speculation about proving ourselves to China. I wonder if China would want to get into an arms race with us? I hope not.

#2 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 03:23 PM:

It's the easiest test they could come up with, in order to prove that a missile defense system might work.

When they try to shoot down real missiles, they can't do it well enough to demonstrate success. So they have to go for a predictable target, and a satellite de-orbiting is the easiest one they could find, short of the broad side of a stationary barn.

Their reasons for doing it are possible the best part of the whole thing.

#3 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 03:25 PM:

Stupid dick waving.

Barring a perfect intercept (and the resultant fallout of our doing what we yelled at China for doing, and pissing off more people as we try to tell the world [by our deeds] that we keep two sets of rules), all we do is show (as with Iraq) what our limits are.

As we show everyone else what arrogantly brainless fools we have in office.

#4 ::: Sean O'Hara ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 03:37 PM:
Barring a perfect intercept (and the resultant fallout of our doing what we yelled at China for doing, and pissing off more people as we try to tell the world [by our deeds] that we keep two sets of rules),

The Chinese hit a satellite in orbit, which means that's where the debris are going to stay. The US is planning to hit an object falling out of orbit, which means the debris will continue to fall to Earth (the missile doesn't have enough KE to knock anything to a stable orbit), only in smaller pieces that will burn up upon reentry. Completely different animals.

#5 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 03:49 PM:

This makes me feel ever so much safer, which is important, since the Democrat Obstructive Congress voted just yesterday on a Bad Bill and refused to corrab collum collabinate with The President to help to protect me against a turrist attack. So even though the turrists will probably attack me, I'll be safe from the gas cloud.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:05 PM:

a way to keep secret material out of the wrong hands

Did someone in the Pentagon come across Turner Classic Movies's showing of Ice Station Zebra one time too many?

#7 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:12 PM:

A huge decaying satellite, about to become a danger? And NASA couldn't get Clint Eastwood and his buddies to fix it?

#8 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:31 PM:

LMB MacAlister @ 5: You beat me to it!

After all, it's not "dick-waving" when a Republican does it. Nosirree, it's all about the protection of this country from those terrorists, who -- you all know -- are waiting just over the border, slavering, watching for the force fields to come down. Because then, they'll strike. It's only our force fields that have kept this Great Country of Ours from suffering another attack. And this is why we also need to let hunters have bazookas and assault rifles for deer hunting; you never know when that deer might actually be a terrorist in disguise.

Or, y'know, not.

I work with scientists and veterinarians, and I've noticed over the years that there are people who are just plain uncomfortable with ambiguity. My mother is one; her PhD was in physical chemistry and she by-golly wants hard facts. Numbers. Equations. She worked in biological research and had to deal with maybes, possibilities, and vagueness -- all of which was my father's field of expertise (economics) -- but she never really liked it.

There are veterinarians who can't tolerate the idea of "risk", and want to eliminate all forms of risk. This leads to a very secure environment, indeed, but research can't occur. On the other hand, there are people who take "risk" as one factor in determining their approach, and realize that we need to monitor appropriately for the pathogens -- and at the same time allow research to progress.

It seems to me that our current government is full of people who want No Risk Ever, and thus we get the idiotic rhetoric, dick-waving, and babies dying in airports. Or, we could vote in a bunch of people who understand there's risk in life, set up appropriate guidelines and monitoring schemes, and allow life to proceed.

I know, I'm an optimist.

#9 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:36 PM:

Ginger @ 8... those terrorists, who -- you all know -- are waiting just over the border

Cursed Canucks!

#10 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:43 PM:

Serge @ 9: I thought the Canadians work by stealth assimilation. Have you seen the Canadian Borg icon?

I almost know the Canadian anthem in French, although you don't want to hear me sing anything (no, trust me, not a single note), and I know what poutine is, eh? In fact, eh?, I can talk like anybody from Toronna, eh?

See? Assimilation. Before you know it, all this will be South Canada. (Checks world maps) Not yet, though.

#11 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:49 PM:

Ginger @ #8:

It seems to me that our current government is full of people who want No Risk Ever, and thus we get the idiotic rhetoric, dick-waving, and babies dying in airports. Or, we could vote in a bunch of people who understand there's risk in life, set up appropriate guidelines and monitoring schemes, and allow life to proceed.
If the current regime actually was serious about creating a No Risk Ever situation, I suspect things would look very different here. Instead, they're only wanting to create an appealing diversion of false security, while they bleed the treasury of every last penny we can beg, borrow, or steal. And we're saddled with a big, new, fake agency, staffed with incompetents and sycophants, and a transportation industry burdened with an intrusive, ineffectual system of play-acting, all in the name of security.

#12 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 04:53 PM:

When a man's aircraft carrier is overflown by a Russian bomber, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of it. It's your aircraft carrier and you're supposed to do something about it. And it happens we're in the empire business. Well, when one of your defenses gets penetrated, it's bad business to let anyone get away with it, bad all around, bad for every empire everywhere.

#13 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:01 PM:

That article characterizes hydrazine toxicity as relatively harmless, comparable to chlorine gas. Anyone who thinks of chlorine gas as harmless obviously hasn't had it cut loose during a high school chemistry class lab accident.

In any case, I think that the money to zap the satellite is well spent as a 21st century warfare training exercise, and there doesn't really need to be so much verbiage squandered over which rationalization sucks the most.

#14 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:08 PM:

Judging from the last time I can remember the US bringing down something from orbit (Skylab), it sounds like a good time to pass the message around the southern parts of Australia about keeping an eye on the sky. Skylab, if I remember correctly, wasn't supposed to be falling in large enough chunks to be recognisable, wasn't supposed to be hitting land at all, and was certainly not supposed to be going anywhere near populated areas. Given I heard a wonderful eye-witness account of the Skylab landing from my uncle in Esperance (complete with a description of one of the local SES people phoning up the media with a correction to the official reports of where the blasted thing had landed), I'd say that one messed up rather seriously.

At least get the aim correct this time - Parliament House in Canberra is on the other side of the wretched country.

#15 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:09 PM:

LMB MacAlister @ 11:
If the current regime actually was serious about creating a No Risk Ever situation, I suspect things would look very different here. Instead, they're only wanting to create an appealing diversion of false security, while they bleed the treasury of every last penny we can beg, borrow, or steal. And we're saddled with a big, new, fake agency, staffed with incompetents and sycophants, and a transportation industry burdened with an intrusive, ineffectual system of play-acting, all in the name of security.

That's a good point, and I think we've got that too -- perhaps it's the cynical aspect of same mind-set. After all, the "important people" get all kinds of protections that the rest of us never see, and the determination of "importance" seems to be based partly on Party Affiliation, partly on money, and partly on connections. Outside of the charmed circle, it falls apart because the people in charge of enacting policy are not competent, only connected ("Heckuva job Brownie!"). This then trickles down to the rank-and-file who don't believe in the system because it's clearly corrupted or don't give a darn because it's just a paycheck.

There are so many good people in the Federal government; it's a damned shame the TSA is so effing incompetent.

Anyway, I do think that "No Risk Ever" is one of their mantras, because they have come up with all of these rules to prevent another 9-11. Besides the barn door-horse problem, none of these rules actually address reality, nor do they provide for appropriate monitoring of risk. All they do is shove the burden of "proof" (if you will) onto the consumer, and remove common sense from the arena. This way, no TSA agent has to worry about thinking or judging any situation; it's all covered in the rules. Of course no rule book can adequately cover all situations; it's the main problem in engineering a solution to solve a problem, rather than using a performance-based approach. I mean, when you think about it, the Israeli approach to airplane hijackers is a performance-based method, while our TSA is an engineering-standard based method. Each American is hoisted on the Procrustean bed of TSA regulations and made to fit. This -- to me, at least -- bespeaks an aversion to risk. There's more than one risk, thus too much room for error, which must be avoided. That is the basis of the rhetoric being used by the President against the Democratic party for allowing the lapse of the surveillance law.

#16 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:12 PM:

Ginger @ 10... I may be a Borg from Poutineland, but nobody told me if I was supposed to point out that resistance is futile-rhymes-with-isle, or futile-rhymes-with-feudal?

#17 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:28 PM:

Left to itself, the satellite will come down at an essentially random place, and will start in one 5000 lb lump. That's what happens if we do nothing.

Is someone seriously arguing it would be better to bring it down with no aim, than with poor aim? Or reentering in one piece rather than multiple smaller ones?

Sounds like the military is getting this one right. Although I don't know why they're making such a big deal about the hydrazine. Surely impact damage is the big risk.

#18 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:31 PM:

Johan Larson... Of course not. People were just wondering about the real reason why this is being done.

#19 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:33 PM:

Johan @17: as Meg Thornton has already pointed out, some of us have unfond memories of a previous occasion on which the US disposed of surplus space hardware by breaking it up into smaller chunks scattered across a larger area...

#20 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:36 PM:

Bob Rossney: I don't understand your point.

Earl Cooley III: How many people have died from chlorine gas incidents in chemistry classes.

If it were all that deadly, we'd not let high school students play with it. The problem isn't the question of which rationale is the better sell, the problem is that ABM systems are fundamentally destabilizing. An ICBM is a traceable thing. They can't be launched in secret. Terrorisists aren't going to have access to them.

So the thing an ABM system lets one do is make a first strike. That's the real problem (IMO) with the stealth bomber. It's about making a successful first strike, not a successful second strike.

If it were possible to make one that couldn't deliver a nuclear weapon, then it would be tolerable, but since it can't, I have reservations about them.

More to the point, we aren't capable of standing; as an empire, in the face of worldwide opposition. Doing something as provocative as this, and chasing after something so, jusifiably, condemned is foolish, at a policy level.

The money is wasted; because it's not a good idea, at it's fundamental levels. It doesn't make us safer, puts us in a morally weaker position, and can't improve world opninion of us.

Where's the upside to it?

#21 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Johan, I think part of the idea (at least what they're selling it as) is to hit it with a humongous big missile so the satellite becomes many small pieces, which in theory will not be a danger.

#22 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Blowing a sizable satellite that's in a well-tracked orbit into small chunks that could go into orbits already populated by other satellites doesn't sound so smart to me. In fact, that was one of the objections the US had to the Chinese "test".

#23 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:41 PM:

Serge @ 16: Ah, non; the Canadian Borg assimilate nicely. Resistance would be impolite. Please wait to be assimilated. Pour l'assimilation en Francais, veuillez appuyer sur 2.

;-)

#24 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 05:57 PM:

I believe it is expected to largely break up in any case, not land in one piece. If you want large objects to re-enter the atmosphere from orbit intact, you've got to carefully design them to, and this was never meant to.

I had been thinking the real reason they would want to blow it up is pretty obvious - the DOD et al. don't want whatever types of sensors the NRO is using to land in a chunk, somewhere where another country could recover it. I'm sure any country with orbital capability would be interested in what we're using in our satellites; so would any country that we are spying on.

Blowing it up is, to my mind, not utterly unreasonable; what's annoying me is that the rationales offered are so fucking stupid and transparent. They're the kind of reasons you might offer a not overly skeptical child. Some occasional doses of truth would be nice, but failing that, at least give me some intelligent lies.

#25 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:06 PM:

Johan Larson @ #17: Surely the big concern is impact of that 5,000# chunk of secret spy technology, in any form that's intact enough to reverse-engineer. Of course there's plenty that could go wrong. But what's almost laughable, to me at least, is the tall tale about hydrazine cloud avoidance, when it would be so much easier to just say we're blowing it up in order to trash it.

#26 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:11 PM:

Ginger @ 23... Pour l'assimilation en Francais, veuillez appuyer sur 2.

Of course l'Office de la Langue Francaise would insist upon the use of the spelling 'Borgue'. And then as le Borgue begins assimilating, we discover that the Queen is Edith Piaf.

#27 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:21 PM:

Bob Rossney-- :-) Now I'm gonna have to watch that movie tonight.

#28 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:34 PM:

Bob Rossney @ 12... we're in the empire business. Well, when one of your defenses gets penetrated

Ye'rrrre out!
("Serge, it's empire, not umpire.")
Oh. Nevermind.

#29 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:35 PM:

Serge @ 26:

La Vie en Borgue?

#30 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:38 PM:

This might be worth having as a defence against the missile tech of North Korea. How much work the JNSDF needs to do to deploy this option, I don't know, but isn't it a better option than bombing the launch site?

Is it so different from Patriots vs. SCUDs?

And it suggests that the USA doesn't need to invade or bomb Iran. There could be some Pentagon Politics in this, with the Navy not just gaining status, but being able to argue against another war.

Trouble is, if the insanity it is aimed at is in the White House, it only buys time. Somebody still has to win an election.

#31 ::: Ericka Barber ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 06:53 PM:

Question: What are the odds that they'll miss the satellite? What happens then, politically?

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 07:08 PM:

Ginger @ 29... That'd explain the ship's looking like a bouillon cube.

#33 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 07:08 PM:

SecDef: "Sir, you remember that black goopy stuff from outer space that turned Spiderman evil? Blowing this satellite up will stop it once and for all..."

#34 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 07:18 PM:

I know a story of a pilot who had to eject from his plane over Europe. The danger wasn't quite so immediate that the plane crashed right away. In fact, it continued having a nice scenic flight over western Europe until its fuel tanks emptied.

The whole time it was a pilotless aircraft, it was followed by the pilot's wingman, who had the option of shooting it down.

He chose not to.

It would either crash on its own and kill or miss people, or he could shoot it down and it would kill or miss people. He wisely chose not to be a part of any potential disaster.

But I suppose if you have all those expensive toys to play with, and power is no fun unless you exercise it...

#35 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 07:38 PM:

I'm thinking it's about the beryllium. (The fuel tank is lined with beryllium.) They want (why?) to spread a cloud of beryllium bits across the hemisphere. Whoopee! Maybe to see if it's as poisonous as they say. . .

#36 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 07:52 PM:

#24:

I had been thinking the real reason they would want to blow it up is pretty obvious - the DOD et al. don't want whatever types of sensors the NRO is using to land in a chunk, somewhere where another country could recover it. I'm sure any country with orbital capability would be interested in what we're using in our satellites; so would any country that we are spying on.

Surely the sensors would be on the outside, where they're the most likely to be melted beyond recognition on reentry?

Reentry is *dangerous*. Craft that are designed to survive it sometimes don't (Columbia). Anything that isn't specifically designed to survive it is slag.

I think they're blowing it up to prove they can (or test whether or not they can - if they spent X billion dollars on a system that's *supposed* to be able to do this, it might be nice to know whether or not it delivers).

#37 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 08:05 PM:

Serge @ 32: ship's looking like a bouillon cube.

Thus, Scotty's famous saying: "Yer're a foine broth* of a laddie, yew are!" to the red-shirted Ensign Mirepoix.

Otherwise we're stuck watching Bouillon skating over to pick a fight with Mr. Scott.

*OK, so my scottish accent is irish.

#38 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 08:08 PM:

The original Chinese test was widely interpreted IIRC as an implicit threat against the military use of GPS - "If you think you might ever want to drop ordnance all over *us* with pinpoint accuracy based on something as vulnerable as a satellite system, think again." Which I thought was fair enough, really - be a shame to effectively lose the ability to have satellites at all for a century or whatever, but are they supposed to sacrifice their chances in any putative conflict due to such considerations?

This one just sounds pointless, however.

#39 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 08:21 PM:

Question from an ignorant: is this the same tech that Republican "Cheneystas" were pushing right before Clinton took office, and it was so useless that they couldn't find pork-money for it until the 2000 election?

If it is, this little show might just be an attempt at maintaining that useless program alive once the Dems get back in the driving seat...

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:04 PM:

#34

And the recent, very similar incident involving Payne Stewart.

#41 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:29 PM:

#17 Johan: I have to disagree. One 5000lb lump only a few feet across has an astronomically low chance of actually hitting anything of value. Even if the 400 or so liters of hydrazine get released, there is only about 100 yard threat zone before dispersal makes it a mere annoyance.

The political and ethical drawbacks far outweigh the lessened impact threat.

#24 Clifton: I agree the actual reasoning is to prevent any reverse engineering or technology piracy. The hydrazine tank, however, IS expected to survive to impact, and it could act as a shield for other, more secret, gadgets. I think that is their fear (or at least their private self-justification). Having said that, I still don't think the shot is at all reasonable. Even if Bush's advisors believe their own rhetoric, the real reason this is happening is that there is a 5-year-old in the Oval Office who wants to play with his toys.

#30 Dave: This is VERY different than shooting at an incoming SCUD, or any anti-missile system. Even the appearance of the militarization of space needs to avoided. Enough one-off events like the Chinese test and this will eventually fuel an arms race for a conflict designed to be fought in space.

Blowing up a large number of orbiting satellites could make near-Earth space (up to and including the geostationary level) unusable for centuries. This would be a disaster of untold magnitude, and must be avoided. The United States must become a leader in keeping space demilitarized, and to do that, we must walk the walk.

#31 Erika: They will have up to three shots over about 8 days. Since the worlds of anti-satellite and anti-missile blur together in so many minds, a total failure would encourage nations trying for ICBM capability to pursue their programs.

#38 Adrian: Pointless is absolutely correct, and it applies to the Chinese test as well. One of the articles linked to Patrick's link above is a very well thought out analysis of China's true chances of crippling our space capabilities anytime in the next few decades.

#42 ::: Catfish N. Cod ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:45 PM:

I think Julia Jones @19 has it more correct than Nangleator @34. The US has *already* taken a PR hit before for letting space junk fall out of the sky without doing anything; once this is public, it's better to shoot and reduce your risk.

Sure, Clifton @24, there's sooper seecret spytech on that satellite. And sure, Chris @36, it'll probably be destroyed on re-entry anyway. But why take a chance? It's amazing what survived the wreck of the Columbia; they even retrieved bio experiments from the debris...

I think everyone who stops and thinks about it realizes that the US would like to point out (in case anyone doubted it) that we can shoot down satellites; this is a two-for-one package deal. It's even safer than the Chinese test, since (as has already been noted) the debris will re-enter and won't muck up orbits. (In fact, a big deal was made of this, checking with Atlantis to confirm that it won't intersect their re-entry corridor.)

And I don't have any problem with it. Maybe the hydrazine is a lame reason, but the others are perfectly reasonable.

#43 ::: Sean O'Hara ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 09:49 PM:
Blowing a sizable satellite that's in a well-tracked orbit into small chunks that could go into orbits already populated by other satellites doesn't sound so smart to me.

The satellite is already falling out of orbit. If you smash it to pieces, the pieces will continue to fall out of orbit.

The original Chinese test was widely interpreted IIRC as an implicit threat against the military use of GPS

Unlikely. Anti-satellite missiles only reach altitudes equivalent to Low Earth Orbit -- from the edge of space to 2000 km. GPS satellites are an order of magnitude higher, around 20,000 km. You can shoot down an object in LEO with a missile that doesn't achieve orbit itself, but I doubt you can do so with MEO.

#44 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 10:40 PM:

US Recon satellites are essentially Hubble Space Telescopes pointed at the Earth. They are usually Cassegrain optical systems (or some sophisticated variant thereof), and I imagine the main desire to destroy the satellite in space is to prevent useful pieces falling (literally!) into the wrong hands. I don't know if the primary mirror (which could be nearly three meters in diameter) would survive reentry, but it's possible.

How much could a possible opponent learn from that or other pieces? I have no idea.

If the intercept destroys the fuel tank, that's on the plus side. The odds are remote that the tank poses any danger, but if by chance it did, it wouldn't help the US rep any.

I'm kind of surprised at the whole thing. Usually, satellites like that have motors to allow for a controlled deorbit and reentry. Something must have really gone wrong.

WRT Skylab - increased solar activity in the late 70's made earth's tenous outer atmosphere extend ouward more than originally thought. This enhanced the decay of the spacecraft's orbit. There had been plans, I think, for a Shuttle mission to boost it into a safer orbit, but the faster than expected decay made it moot.

#45 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 10:49 PM:

When I discussed it with my father (who is in the business) he went with the demonstration and "keep it out of Chinese hands" theories, and siad the hydrazine theory is balderdash. I'm inclined to believe him.

#46 ::: Dr Paisley ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 10:56 PM:

8. After all, it's not "dick-waving" when a Republican does it.

Except in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport, where "getting shot down" has different connotations entirely.

#47 ::: Pete ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 10:57 PM:

Celestial mechanics

Resistable force, movable objects.
Destined to meet in the heavens one night.
Of military source; secretive projects
Witnessed by millions in their final flight.

Missile defences, a glittering prize
Memories of dark times; another cold war?
Countdown commences, debris from the skies
Those from Down Under have been here before.

#48 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2008, 11:09 PM:

#44

Apparently, something did: it doesn't answer its phone any more. (The phrase used was more like 'lost control of it', but, in effect, they can't get it to change orbits or do anything else useful.)

#49 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 12:14 AM:

Dr. Paisley, apparently the voters of Idaho may well decide that even that isn't dick-waving. I guess they're convinced that they really did rid their fine state of "the homasexule problem" back in 1955, when they sent 'em packing out of Boise.

(But a good one, nevertheless!)

#50 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 12:30 AM:

Ginger @ 8... it's not "dick-waving" when a Republican does it.

Why? Do they have different aerodynamics that allow for stabler trajectories?

#51 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Serge @50: No, Republicans' have rods in 'em (from t'other end, y'know) which keeps 'em perfectly straight, and leads to conspiracy theories about how (possibly incriminating) photos of them are faked. ("Republican dicks don't wave in space.")

#52 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 01:21 AM:

In space, no one can hear your dick wave.

#53 ::: Simon Bradshaw ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 05:20 AM:

This came up in another forum, so I put together a little Q&A on some of the issues the media seemed to be getting particularly confused over:


What are they aiming at? The satellite in question is USA 193, a satellite launched a few months ago as a covert project of the National Reconnaissance Office - in other words, a spy satellite. It apparently failed soon after launch, stranding it in a low orbit which atmospheric drag is now pulling lower and lower, to the point that left to itself it will re-enter in about a month's time.

Is the satellite a ten-ton monster? The figure of 'ten tons' seems to be being bandied around rather a lot. This is probably because the phrase 'spy satellite' tends to be associated with the NRO's line of massive high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellites descended from the KH9 'Big Bird' of the early 1970s. These are allegedly around about the size of Hubble, and have been launched by heavyweight boosters such as Titan III and IV, which have the capability to put 12 to 20 tons into orbit.

USA 193, by contrast, was launched by a Delta II, specifically the 7920 variant, a standard medium-weight launcher that can put little more than 3 tons into a polar orbit. Whilst hardly small, USA-193 is a medium-weight satellite no larger than many other science or Earth-resources satellites.

Does it pose a hazard to the ground? To begin with, the likelihood of debris from an uncontrolled re-entry falling in a populated area is low. Something like three-quarters of the area under this satellites orbital path is water, and much of the rest is thinly inhabited. However, equally it encompasses the vast bulk of the Earth's populated land area, so the chances of it landing near a populated region can't be disregarded. But then again, the space shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry over a densely-populated swathe of Texas, but caused only limited damage and no injury to anyone on the ground.

If it does come down near a built-up area, what is likely to survive? Two sorts of material tend to reach the ground from uncontrolled re-entry: dense, heavy items and, perversely, very light ones. The former reach the ground because they are dense enough to punch through the atmosphere and solid enough to resist melting, whilst the latter have little enough kinetic energy in comparison with their surface area that they are slowed down without overheating and fall relatively slowly to ground. As it happens, empty fuel tanks are such an item, and quite a few have survived satellite re-entry in the past.

So, is this the satellite's fuel tank a hazard? The justification for the proposed shootdown is indeed that USA 193 has a fuel tank on board; the concern is not so much that the tank itself might reach the ground intact, but that it might spill its load of hydrazine fuel when doing so. Now, I've known people in the space business who've worked with hydrazine, and they will tell you that it is indeed a spectacularly nasty substance: toxic, inflammable, carcinogenic and smelly to boot. I was sceptical at first that there was any chance of the tank reaching the ground with any hydrazine aboard, as it would certainly rupture during re-entry. However, the suggestion from the US is that the hydrazine has frozen, in which case I can see that it might not all leak from even if the tank loses containment. That it would freeze is quite possible if USA 193 has indeed been out of control for several months. Satellite thermal control is a difficult problem and without careful measures such as carefully maintaining the angle at which the it faces the Sun and using active heating or cooling systems, satellites usually overheat or get far too cold.

But does this justify a shootdown? Frankly, I'm sceptical. Plenty of other satellites have failed in low orbit with a full fuel load and have burned up without too much of a problem. My suspicion, like that of many others, is that this is a convenient excuse for the US Dept of Defense to demonstrate, following the Chinese anti-satellite test last year, that it too is capable of intercepting space vehicles. The other suggestion, that the plan is to deny the prospect of sensitive components from reaching the ground intact, is possible but I suspect less likely.

Can you actually shoot a satellite down? Not as such. At present, USA 193 is in a very low (and getting lower through atmospheric drag) circular orbit. The weapon that would be used to attack it - an updated version of the US Navy's long-serving Standard surface-to-air missile - does not have a warhead as such, but rather has a guided final stage that flies into the target at a closing speed of around 10 km/s. At that speed, the kinetic energy of the collision is equivalent to the interceptor's own weight in explosive, so the interceptor and much of the satellite would be vaporised in a powerful explosion. The surviving fragments of the satellite would end up in new orbits all of which passed through the point of interception but which were perturbed to some extent from the original circular orbit. Now, given how close the original orbit is to the atmosphere, it's easy to see that any significant deviation from it is likely to be an orbit that dips into the atmosphere at some point. In other words, most of the debris is likely to end up in orbits that will hit the atmosphere within a single pass around the Earth, although a fraction of the remains - those parts that were flung directly forward from the impact - will end up in elliptical orbits with a low point at the original orbit height but a new, higher apogee (high point). Even so, these will burn up within a few months at most as their perigee (low point) will be low enough for atmospheric drag to pose a significant effect.

Is there a risk to other satellites? A small one. As noted above, some debris is likely to be flung into short-lived orbits above the original one, and there is a chance that these might cross the paths of operational satellites. However, the risk is small; bear in mind that the single biggest target in low orbit is the Space Station, and the DoD and NASA will have had to assess the risk to it as minimal to be proceeding with this plan. The Chinese test, which was carried out against a satellite in much higher orbit, probably produced much more in the way of potentially hazardous space debris than this shootdown would.

Will it work? The US anti-missile system has had a very chequered record in tests, but to be fair shooting at a minibus-sized satellite in a known orbit is likely to be much easier than aiming at an oil-drum-sized warhead launched only a few minutes previously. If the Americans are planning this as a bit of sabre-rattling, then I'd assume that they are fairly confident that it's going to work.

#54 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 05:45 AM:

Just as an aside: If you haven't read Lawrence Weschler's A Wanderer in the Perfect City (and why haven't you, for all love? it's almost as good as Vermeer in Bosnia), one of the pieces contains a good detailed account of what the ground engineers at JPL go through when a very expensive satellite misbehaves. That particular piece ends up a fair distance away from the space program, and I won't spoil it by telling you where.

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 07:14 AM:

Simon Bradshaw @ 53... high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellites descended from the KH9 'Big Bird' of the early 1970s

Sunny Day
Sweepin' the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet

Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street

Come and play
Everything's A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That's where we meet

Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street

#56 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 08:54 AM:

Meg Thornton #14 - At least get the aim correct this time - Parliament House in Canberra is on the other side of the wretched country.

Is that why they buried it under a hill? (It certainly feels like it is when you're on the lawn on the roof)

#57 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 10:08 AM:

#53:

If the Americans are planning this as a bit of sabre-rattling, then I'd assume that they are fairly confident that it's going to work.

True, but remember that these are some of the exact same people who were confident that we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq, and that there was almost no evidence that the Sunni and Shia couldn't get along.

In other words, I don't put much confidence in their confidence.

#58 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 12:05 PM:

Serge @ 50:

Hee..I was thinking more along the lines of "showing off the assets"; i.e., "when we do it, it's a big deal and when they do it, it's just fooling around".

Ever since Cheney went into "undisclosed locations", he hasn't been around to wave at all.

LMB MacAlister @ 52:

snort. I think you've got the scary part down just right.

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 12:16 PM:

Ginger @ 58... Or, as the saying goes in French, deux poids, deux mesures, or, you get different measurements depending on who does the weighing, eh?

See Dick wave. Wave, Dick, wave!

(Remember the days of yore, when Dick was said to have gravitas? What a difference a messed-up war does to a reputation, along with telling someone in the Senate to go bleep himself.)

#60 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 12:30 PM:

Serge @ 59:

Which leads us into Measure twice, cut once, a phrase that might have extra special meaning for the mohel.

As for me, Dick didn't have gravitas after failing to speak up for gay and lesbian rights even though his daughter are one. It really came to a head (sorry..couldn't resist) during the debates, when John Kerry mentioned her and they attacked him. I have no respect for that family at all.

Gravitas -- something that inevitably leads to the event horizon?

#61 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 12:56 PM:

Ginger @ 60... I myself never thought that Dick had gravitas, and not just for the reasons you mentionned. There was a time though when the word was... ah... tossed around to ascribe such a quality in him.

#62 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 01:07 PM:

Serge @ 61:

Oh, I quite agree; he was described in many glowing terms. Now..a lot of what has happened in this country can ultimately be laid at his feet, as the Grand Policy-Maker and Power Behind the Throne.

I guess you could describe the change in perception as "anti-gravitas"?

#63 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 01:41 PM:

Ginger & Serge: What Dick lacks isn't just gravitas, it's the quality that, back in the old days, was referred to as uprightness. Indeed, none of the current mob in charge of the fate of the most powerful country in the world can be charged with the possession of much of that quality -- nor with any other virtue, come to think of it. What they've done a good job of is imitating virtue, and making a big fuss about doing so. The president, for example, has spent the past seven years pretending to possess manliness, decency, honour, righteousness, and benevolence.

#64 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 01:53 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 63:

Amen, brother! All I can say to that is, when Bill lied -- nobody died.

I'll vote for a crook if I have to*, as long as I know what I'm getting. If Shrub had had even the smallest iota of decency he wouldn't have first hidden out in the Texas ANG and then played games even there.


*I have done, too. I moved to Louisiana just in time to vote for Buddy Roemer, who lost, and then for Edwin Edwards, the crook. Only when I was leaving, 3 years later, did I figure out how Fast Eddie made his comeback. It was a textbook case of political shenanigans.

#65 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 02:00 PM:

I think where Dick's concerned, gravitas meant "hard-ass." During his time as corporate royalty, he had quite a reputation as someone who really needed to be gone along with. In his current position, he can only push people so far. He can't exactly hire and fire US Senators, particularly non-Republicans. (The case could be made that he and Rove could eventually fire Republicans if they wanted do, hence the suck-up routines of McCain and others.) Thus, his gravitas has dissolved into simply "ass."

It'll be interesting to see if his teflon underwear continues to serve him after he leaves office. However, it wouldn't surprise me if he winds up using the same ultimate Get Out of Jail Free card as Ken Lay.

#66 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 02:03 PM:

LMB MacAlister@65:

A heart attack?

#67 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 02:05 PM:

LMB MacAlister @ 65... Was it necessary to remind us of Dick's underwear, especially teflon ones? Ewww...

#68 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 02:25 PM:

Sadly, there is no such thing as teflon underwear; only shirts and pants are made with teflon.

Yes, I looked.

This is a niche market that cries out for exploitation.

#69 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 02:36 PM:

Ginger, I think Uncle Dick's probably way past "heart attack." He's had repeated cardiac procedures while being in The White House office. It would just be a matter of stopping the procedures used to keep him alive.

Serge, this squick moment was brought to you by DuPont. It takes a very slippery substance applied to the body to allow someone to shoot someone in the face and have the victim say he liked it, just to mention one of a few hundred things.

#70 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 03:00 PM:

The thing about Dick and his ilk is that they make me miss even more the days of Bill, who proved his manhood the old-fashioned way, if you know what I mean.

#71 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 03:50 PM:

65, 66

I want part of the final procedure on Dick to include skewering whatever serves as a heart with a wooden skewer (or a sharp chopstick), soaked in garlic juice and wrapped with silver wire. Then stuff his mouth with garlic before he's permanently located.
(Just to make sure he stays dead, you understand.)

#72 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 04:33 PM:

IIRC, the pacemaker was installed at Taxpayer Expense--anyone besides me thinking about having it repossessed?

Or else just bill him the full market rate, including hospital time and follow-up visits, with interest (from the date of the procedure) set at maximum credit card rates and compounded...

#73 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 04:58 PM:

Gravitas -- a thirty thousand dollar custom tailored business suit and a sneer.

#74 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 05:51 PM:

I'd have to insist on repossession. The full insured-market cost of his procedures and apparati would be just chump change for him, after what he's realized from his years with Halliburton, both in and out of the White House. And I'm not sure skewering a machine would do any good.

Earl, good definition of gravitas.

#75 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 06:01 PM:

Can't somebody just go hunting with Dick, and have an accident?

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 06:11 PM:

Fragano @ 63

Lacking uprightness makes them invertebrates, right?

#77 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 08:00 PM:

#74 LMB MacAlister--that's why I wanted to add the interest charges, at 29.whatever% APR.

If you add that level of interest to a quarter of a million dollars, from 2001 to the present, the total ends up at over a million, and while I agree that that wouldn't send him into bankruptcy, it's the only thing, aside from his own will, he seems to have any repsect for--money.

#78 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 09:19 PM:

fidelio @ #77: That well may be, but I'll be if a team of FBI doctors showed up wanting to take back all his internal goodies, on behalf of the American taxpayers, it'd get his attention.

#79 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 11:57 PM:

Bruce C (StM) #76: Not necessarily. Snakes (including the alleged Vice President) have backbones.

#80 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 01:00 AM:

Bruce Adelsohn @ 79

Well, true, but I don't give them that much credit for evolutionary complexity. Flatworms, maybe.

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 06:58 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #76: That would be one way of putting it.

#82 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 11:01 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ #76: In this case, it also makes them inveterates.

#83 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 11:10 AM:

LMB @ 82... And inchoate?

#84 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 12:06 PM:

Serge, inchoate, and inveterately incoherent. Not to mention the Cthulhian economic policies.

#85 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 12:10 PM:

Given the nature of the programs they've fostered, strong-armed and profitted from, he ought to be billed for the repossession procedures, and follow up care. Full-rate, not insured-discount.

And yes, I've thought of hunting with such men.

#86 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 12:17 PM:

I have a feeling the Secret Service contingent wouldn't be as forgiving of others' "hunting accidents" as they encourage those others to be.

#87 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 01:19 PM:

Re: Monty Python: I remember one scene from (I think) Mallory, that never made it into MP's Grail, but was high comedy in it's own right. That was when Lancelot is in the middle of a swordfight in a castle courtyard, when Queen G. leans out of a window to see what the ruckus is. Lancelot is instantly lovestruck, to the point that he can not look away, and continues the swordfight while looking up at her, until she realizes what's going on and yells out to him "For crissakes, pay attention to your fight!" (I paraphrase, <ahem>.)

Someone really ought to play with that....

#88 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Serge @ 83 -- I don't think any of them went to Choate.

;-)

#89 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 01:55 PM:

Ginger, that's just further proof that they're inchoate.

#90 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 02:14 PM:

Ginger #88: The truly grotty ones having gone to Groton?

#91 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 03:07 PM:

Having gone to Hackley*, I can only nod in agreement. Buxton requires a ton of bucks; just watch out for the ones who went to the Hun School.


*..and having spent the better part of two weeks hacking my lungs out...

#92 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 05:19 PM:

Andover and over and...

#93 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 06:14 PM:

Spoken like a true Masters. It's a good thing I'm Seton down. ;-)

#94 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2008, 11:22 PM:

Ginger: Stay seated, lest we have to Duke it out.

#95 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 12:11 AM:

[only read through #20... but replying because I am far behind due to having been at Boskone and need to get sleep....]

1) Skylab coming down was an uh-oh from NASA which had emphatically not wanted to be informed, "Skylab is in a decaying orbit and is going to burn in." NASA really did not want to hear that, and didn't have the ability to boost Skylab back up to an altitude that it wasn't going to fall out of the sky from. NASA had expected/hoped that Skylab was in a high enough orbit to still be up there when the shuttle started flying.... which wasn't to be.

2) Regarding the current falling-out-of-the-sky satellite, it's rather smaller than the Soviet equipped-with-nuclear-reactor spacecraft that spread radioactive debris across Canada 30+ years ago when it came down out of orbit.

3)Generally, things that come down out of orbit,
a) there isn't much left of, and
b) what does survive re-entry, generally meets wet rather than dry planetary surface.

4) Turning spacecraft in a decaying orbit into pieces of spacecraft along the orbit the spacecraft used to be in, much more likely to burn up coming down--I strongly suspect that the hydrazine would cease being hydrazine and instead dissociate into its atomic components, there is a lot of energy involves in atmospheric re-entry, and it happens I-forget-how-high-up-in-altitude (re-entry into the atmosphere).

5) When something is in a decaying orbit, it is on a flight path that is going to spiral down until it goes so in its orbit that atmospheric drag is going to slow it down enough that it's going to re-enter the atmosphere, and if there is anything solid enough left, something solid will come down through the atmosphere unvaporized and hit the surface of the planet--land or water surface.

6) Turning Large Object into Lots of Pieces doesn't change the inevitability of atmospheric re-entry. What it does change, is the likelihood of anything solid coming down to the surface.

7. There have been hundreds and hundreds of satellites, rocket bodies, and pieces of debris that fell out of orbit. Most of them do so highly uneventfully as regards anybody on the gound who isn't spacetracking, noticing anything. Making a large satellite which is on downward spiral heading into the atmosphere turn into pieces, is actually a more more desirable situation than having an integral bird headed for re-entry, because:

8. The pieces are all going to be down in not that long a time period, anyway. It;s stuff in higher orbit that breaks up that back when I was in Spacetrack was the big long-term pain in the ass. Things like Delta rocket bodies blowing up in low orbit sometime after their payloads had deployed made a big mess and spread space debris around, but the pieces uneventfully except for that many pieces being pains in the asses to separate out (okay, there were some fun aspects to it... it was back in the days BEFORE computers with GUIs to plot the things on a display, it involved MANUALLY plotting points and literally connecting up the dots and then take those data point and run orbit calc programs on an old mainframe using punch card input.... the most disagreeable thing was punching the cards) and generate orbital element sets on....) and catalog as space debris. The ex-Delta detritus was in orbits sufficiently low that within a couple of weeks generally, there wasn't any of it still up in space (including any leftover residual fuel...)

9. Bottom line, looks to me like a lot of misplaced upset.

#96 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 12:19 AM:

[only read through #20... but replying because I am far behind due to having been at Boskone and need to get sleep....]

1) Skylab coming down was an uh-oh from NASA which had emphatically not wanted to be informed, "Skylab is in a decaying orbit and is going to burn in." NASA really did not want to hear that, and didn't have the ability to boost Skylab back up to an altitude that it wasn't going to fall out of the sky from. NASA had expected/hoped that Skylab was in a high enough orbit to still be up there when the shuttle started flying.... which wasn't to be.

2) Regarding the current falling-out-of-the-sky satellite, it's rather smaller than the Soviet equipped-with-nuclear-reactor spacecraft that spread radioactive debris across Canada 30+ years ago when it came down out of orbit.

3)Generally, things that come down out of orbit,
a) there isn't much left of, and
b) what does survive re-entry, generally meets wet rather than dry planetary surface.

4) Turning spacecraft in a decaying orbit into pieces of spacecraft along the orbit the spacecraft used to be in, much more likely to burn up coming down--I strongly suspect that the hydrazine would cease being hydrazine and instead dissociate into its atomic components, there is a lot of energy involves in atmospheric re-entry, and it happens I-forget-how-high-up-in-altitude (re-entry into the atmosphere).

5) When something is in a decaying orbit, it is on a flight path that is going to spiral down until it goes so in its orbit that atmospheric drag is going to slow it down enough that it's going to re-enter the atmosphere, and if there is anything solid enough left, something solid will come down through the atmosphere unvaporized and hit the surface of the planet--land or water surface.

6) Turning Large Object into Lots of Pieces doesn't change the inevitability of atmospheric re-entry. What it does change, is the likelihood of anything solid coming down to the surface.

7. There have been hundreds and hundreds of satellites, rocket bodies, and pieces of debris that fell out of orbit. Most of them do so highly uneventfully as regards anybody on the gound who isn't spacetracking, noticing anything. Making a large satellite which is on downward spiral heading into the atmosphere turn into pieces, is actually a more more desirable situation than having an integral bird headed for re-entry, because:

8. The pieces are all going to be down in not that long a time period, anyway. It;s stuff in higher orbit that breaks up that back when I was in Spacetrack was the big long-term pain in the ass. Things like Delta rocket bodies blowing up in low orbit sometime after their payloads had deployed made a big mess and spread space debris around, but the pieces uneventfully except for that many pieces being pains in the asses to separate out (okay, there were some fun aspects to it... it was back in the days BEFORE computers with GUIs to plot the things on a display, it involved MANUALLY plotting points and literally connecting up the dots and then take those data point and run orbit calc programs on an old mainframe using punch card input.... the most disagreeable thing was punching the cards) and generate orbital element sets on....) and catalog as space debris. The ex-Delta detritus was in orbits sufficiently low that within a couple of weeks generally, there wasn't any of it still up in space (including any leftover residual fuel...)

9. Bottom line, looks to me like a lot of misplaced upset.

#97 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 07:29 AM:

# 4 -- And the Stars Wars missile defense system (started up by the "he is not a wingnut" Ronnie Raygun) is all perfect and just raring to go.

Tool.

#98 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 10:40 AM:

So has the Pentagon actually said what flavor of ABM is going be used vs this wayward satellite? The only one I recall being deployable on a USN cruiser was the THAAD, which stood for (I think) THeater Atmospheric Anti-missile Defense.

The thought was that a cruiser loaded with these missiles would be able to protect local targets from ballistic missile attack, rather than hope there was enough dry land in the proper spot to allow the Army's Patriots to sort of work.

This strikes me more of the kind of "see what we can do!" type of act than anything else, and the hydrozine and high-tech gadgets are just an excuse.

#100 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2008, 03:54 PM:

Basic considerations about shooting down missiles, satellites, or anything else:

1) If you can't "see" it you're not going to hit it except by sheer happenstance/accident (as in, "I threw something out a window, and it hit someone on the other side of a house").

2) Anything that can get up to orbital altitude, can hit something that's in an orbit at that altitude passing through the same volume of space at the same time that the something that went up there, is passing through. That is, if you're driving on a highway and are in the path of a pumpkin that someone dropped from a bridge over the road...

3) There have been tests of other things up at high altitude that destroyed e.g. re-entry vehicles, I saw a film of one such thing years ago, which was quite cute. (Note--the USA, the USSR, China, France, and other countries have launched LOTS of test long-range ballistic missiles with re-entry vehicles dropped off the buses of the missiles over the years, where the missiles went exoatmospheric and the RVs came back down, generally going into the water (see "Broad Ocean Area" closure notices...). They generally weren't carrying "real" warheads designed for going BOOM!, but...)

4) Willful ignorance isn't a workable excuse regarding ability to shoot things down... the sergeants who had been in the air defense system weren't surprised about the shooting down of Francis Gary Powers--they were used to radars which could detect things the size of a U-2 at U-2 altitudes and knew that the US surface to air missiles could be launched to hit things way up, and they figured the Soviet radars and SAMs had similar capabilities... it really was willful ignorance and arrogance on the part of the USA to assume officially otherwise.

#101 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2008, 02:01 AM:

Ginger @ 60:

Which leads us into Measure twice, cut once, a phrase that might have extra special meaning for the mohel.

*laugh*cough*cough*laugh*cough up a lung*laugh some more*

#102 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2008, 01:09 AM:

So they shot. They believe they hit.

We'll see whether they damaged the meter-wide sphere of frozen hydrazine.

(Learning that the missile was fired during a lunar eclipse makes me wonder if The Laundry was involved.)

#103 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2008, 05:58 PM:

Bill @102: You didn't believe the cover story about the rogue satellite, did you?

#104 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2008, 06:42 PM:

John @98: A RIM-161 SM-3 Standard Block IIA, modified for longer range and to track the relatively cold Old One satellite.

#105 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2008, 06:55 PM:

glinda @ 101:

;-)

#106 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2008, 05:05 AM:

It was pretty pathetic. I've put it out of its misery.

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Adipogenous? Is it contagious? Egregious? Serious? Ridiculous?

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