Feeds

US may shoot down spy sat to safeguard tech secrets

Talk about aggressive rights enforcement

Intelligent flash storage arrays

US defence officials are considering shooting down a rogue American spy satellite in order to prevent its top-secret technology falling into enemy hands, according to reports.

Aviation Week revealed yesterday that Pentagon sources had confirmed the sat shootdown plans, though it is not yet certain that the US will put them into effect.

The surveillance satellite in question was manufactured by arms behemoth Lockheed for the US National Reconnaissance Office, and failed to come online as intended after being launched. Its price is unknown, the purchase having been made using secret "black" funding, but such hardware can be extremely expensive.

The errant spacecraft is expected to start experiencing worsened braking effect from the upper reaches of the atmosphere shortly, within the next few weeks, which will cause it to plunge deeper and so descend to Earth. The exact trajectory and impact point is uncertain, as are the effects on the satellite itself. It might break up into small pieces and be more or less totally destroyed, or substantial parts might come down relatively intact.

The Pentagon has been happy in past weeks for the media - previously including the Reg - to focus on safety concerns such as debris hitting populated areas. The satellite's unused hydrazine manoeuvring fuel - which would have been used to shift orbits and pass over different areas, had the platform actually worked - has also been mentioned extensively.

In fact, however, these concerns are relatively minor. Even if large chunks of satellite did come down in a densely-populated area, the disaster potential is quite small compared to humdrum events such as gales or motorway pileups.

Similarly, while hydrazine is indeed nasty stuff, the satellite's fuel tank poses no great danger. Even in the unlikely event of the tank reaching ground still full and then rupturing, the resulting toxic plume would not affect people further than 20 or 30 yards away.

Similarly, if the satellite were carrying a radioisotope power source (a pint-size nuclear generator, sometimes used on US spy sats and deep-space probes) - which is categorically denied in this case - the danger would not be massive. Several Russian nuclear-powered spy satellites crashed or reentered uncontrolled back in Cold War times, without noticeable effects.

This kind of concern would frankly not be sufficient to get the Pentagon thinking about drastic options such as orbital or upper-atmosphere strikes. Indeed, under some contingencies shooting at the satellite could actually break it up and spread potentially dangerous fragments over a wider area.

If, in fact, the satellite comes down in North America, as the Pentagon has publicly hinted it might, one may be sure that the US spy community will breathe a massive sigh of relief - much though they might not make that attitude public.

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.