Feeds

Spy satellite to slam Earthside

Could contain hazardous materials, just like The Andromeda Strain

The Power of One Infographic

A large US spy satellite has lost power and could hit the Earth in late February or March, government officials have said. The satellite, which is now out of control, could contain hazardous materials, and it's unknown where on our planet it might come down.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council said, "Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation...Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause."

He would not however, comment on whether it's possible for the satellite to be shot down by a missile.

"The Andromeda Strain " image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Scenes like this...could soon become commonplace

Such an uncontrolled re-entry could risk exposure of US secrets, director of the defense research group Global Security John Pike, told Associated Press. Spy satellites are typically disposed of through a controlled re-entry into the ocean so that no one else can access the spacecraft.

Pike also said it's not likely the threat from the satellite could be eliminated by shooting it down with a missile, because that would create debris that would then re-enter the atmosphere and burn up or hit the ground.

It's estimated that the spacecraft weighs about 20,000lb - roughly the size of a small bus - and might contain beryllium: a light metal with a high melting point that's used in the defense and aerospace industries.

This isn't the first uncontrolled re-entry for a NASA spacecraft: Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station, fell from orbit in 1979. Its debris dropped harmlessly into the Indian Ocean and across a remote section of Western Australia.

In 2002, officials believe debris from a 7,000lb science satellite smacked into the Earth's atmosphere and rained down over the Persian Gulf, a few thousand miles from where they first predicted it would plummet. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.