Military Takes Aim At Stray Spy Satellite Headed For Earth

The U.S. Navy's shooting down of a stray satellite this month could test missile defense technology.
The U.S. Navy is prepared to shoot down a stray satellite this week, a move that could test missile defense technology.

The Armed Forces Press Service reported Wednesday that the military could shoot down the failed spy satellite within hours or days. The satellite is expected to enter the Earth's atmosphere sometime before the end of the month.

Military experts are waiting for the moment when the weather and the satellite position are just right. At first, experts determined the risk to humans to be low, but now they say that its hydrazine fuel could pose a danger if the satellite lands in a populated area.

Officials said during a recent press conference that the military reconfigured the missiles and their related systems. They're using radar, thermal, and visual tracking systems for planning and execution.

The military announced that it will use an SM-3 interceptor missile, launched from one of three Navy ships, to shoot the satellite as it orbits about 150 miles above Earth. Many of the missile cruisers contain Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense systems. The missiles can reach 310 miles above the Earth's surface. The ones targeting the satellite have been equipped with sensors and had their software slightly modified for the task. If a missile hits the hydrazine tank, the fuel would likely disintegrate quickly, according to the AFPS report.

Soon after its December 2006 launch, the satellite lost communications capability and drifted out of control. Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a news conference last week that the satellite weighs about 5,000 pounds and half that weight would survive re-entry, if left alone.

The U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb.; the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.; the Joint Integrated Missile Defense Team in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and the U.S. Army's Space and Missile Defense Command are tracking the satellite and coordinating preparations with Defense Department leaders and the Navy.

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