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Bush orders US Navy to shoot down rogue spy sat

Anything to stop it hitting eBay

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The most plausible explanation is that the US - no matter what it says officially - is worried about its secret satellite tech falling into the wrong hands. It will be impossible to predict just where the errant sky-spy will fall until shortly before impact, by which point it would be too late to shoot it down - even if there happened to be an Aegis cruiser or destroyer in the right place. So the US will take the sat out while it still can.

John R Pike, a veteran defence/intelligence analyst who runs the authoritative Globalsecurity.org service, told Fox News the US government could still be worried even if the space spyeye came down in America. It seems eBay is part of the espionage threat.

"What they have to be worried about is that a souvenir collector is going to find some piece, put it on e-Bay, and the Chinese buy it," he said, presumably meaning the US government would never find out about the sale and try to outbid the People's Republic.

"The Chinese and the Russians spend an enormous amount of time trying to steal American technology... To have our most sophisticated radar intelligence satellite — have big pieces of it fall into their hands — would not be our preferred outcome."

Pike suspects the satellite is a highly sophisticated ocean-surveillance job, perhaps able to radar-track ships through clouds and storms without using large amounts of power. Previous generations of radar-ocean-recce sats needed expensive, troublesome radioisotope generators - nuclear batteries - or even fully fledged atomic reactors, in the case of some Russian examples.

The US authorities refuse to discuss the secret spacecraft's path, but it is being tracked by amateur sky-watchers. They report that its orbital plane is tilted 60 degrees from that of the equator and it is circling the Earth roughly every 90 minutes: so it could come down anywhere except in the Arctic or Antarctic regions. A handy map webpage for those not up on their orbital mechanics and two-line elements is here.

General Cartwright says the USN will be shooting from positions "in the northern hemisphere and Pacific." ®

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