US satellite-shoot effort seeds conspiracy theory storm
Whatever's going on, China and Russia condemn it
The probable solar-powered nature of the sat has led authoritative space analysts to the belief that the malfunctioning experimental platform is a lower-power radar bird intended to cost less than goldplated models of the past. According to this theory the solar panels of the crippled sat failed to deploy, as the spacecraft shows no sign of them in telescopes.
A cunning new radar bird which could work on cheap-to-deploy solar power might well be a tech secret worth a big effort to safeguard. However, Aviation Week, the magazine which first broke the news of the intercept plan, says that its insider sources offer a different view.
"It's not a radar... [nor] optical or ladar," say the mag's informants. Rather the broken bird is some other kind of relatively cheap, passive low-powered sensor.
That might be no more than an attempt by the Pentagon to downplay the importance of the satellite's payload, in an attempt to big up the official we-just-want-to-save-the-world-from-hydrazine line. Av Week is sometimes jokingly referred to as Av Leak, after all - though usually by envious rival hacks, to be sure.
Or, who knows, the mystery-passive-sensor story could be true. There has been speculation for years that one might perhaps track submerged submarines using various passive means. Magnetic-anomaly detection actually works to a limited degree, though you normally have to be very close to the sub.
Perhaps - and it's a very long shot - the busted satellite (radar or not) was actually supposed to be a working submarine tracker. That would be game-changing kit that America would certainly pull out all the stops to safeguard.
Sadly perhaps, a more prosaic explanation such as cheaper orbital radar seems likelier. What's not credible at all is the notion that this whole business is about a hydrazine fuel tank. ®