Feeds

US may shoot down spy sat to safeguard tech secrets

Talk about aggressive rights enforcement

SANS - Survey on application security programs

In reality, the primary worry for the US military is that the satellite's highly-classified surveillance technology might survive the re-entry and come down in territory controlled by an unfriendly foreign power. It might then be subjected to reverse engineering; or at the very least, enemies of America might learn a lot about US orbital imaging capabilities.

America has sunk billions of "black" dollars into spy satellites, seeking capabilities such as synthetic-aperture radar imaging. This could offer the ability to track individual ships across long ocean passages, for instance, even beneath heavy cloud cover. Rumour has it that the falling spy bird now due to come down might be of this type, perhaps using cunning low-power tech to avoid the use of expensive radioisotope generation.

The idea of secret satellites re-entering uncontrolled and landing fairly intact in the wrong place has long been an established nightmare for the US intelligence community; so much so that it has been used in movie plots. (An example is GI Jane, a film principally about a woman undergoing US Navy SEAL special-warfare training. However, at the end when the SEALs need to go on a real mission so that Demi Moore can win acceptance from the misogynist master chief, they are sent to recover a spy sat downed in enemy territory.)

This time, according to Aviation Week, the Pentagon planners are considering smashing up the satellite before it has dropped properly into the atmosphere. Even the mighty American military (probably) has only a few options here.

One answer might be to fire one of the Missile Defence Agency's (MDA) Ground-Based Mid-course Interceptor rockets at the errant sky-spy. These are designed to put a "kinetic kill vehicle" in the path of a ballistic missile warhead outside the atmosphere. They should be able to knock out the satellite if it passes within reach of the operational interceptor bases (in Alaska and California). The missile technology is still under development, though the MDA has claimed successful tests.

Another option might be the use of an Standard SM-3 interceptor fired from a US Navy Aegis warship. The SM-3 cannot hit targets as high as those reachable with the shore-based missile, but it is said to be capable of dealing with less-capable theatre range ballistic warheads. As the spy sat descends, there may be a part of its trajectory where an SM-3 could nail it - if a suitably armed US cruiser or destroyer were able to reach the right place quickly enough.

These are drastic options, and the fact they are apparently being seriously considered strongly suggests the rogue sat is on course to come down somewhere unfortunate.

No doubt the SEALs and others in the US special-ops community are also considering their options, as well as the missile-defence targeteers. But if the satellite seems likely to crashland deep in eastern or northern Asia, for example - probably in China or Russia - they may not even be able to reach it. In other regions they might be able to reach the secret hardware first and get away again afterwards; but doing so might mean a serious diplomatic incident, or even a shooting war.

All in all, then, the US government might well prefer to wreck the satellite thoroughly while it was still thousands of miles from its impact site and a hundred-plus miles up.

However things turn out, the next few weeks could be interesting ones. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Melting permafrost switches to nasty, high-gear methane release
Result? 'Way more carbon being released into the atmosphere as methane'
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.