Jan 27 2008

Correcting The AP – Spy Satellite WILL Hit Earth

Published by at 1:35 pm under All General Discussions

The math and science challenged news media is all atwitter over a spy satellite that has ended its operational life and will burn up during re-entry with some of it surviving to hit the Earth:

A large U.S. spy satellite has lost power and could hit the Earth in late February or March, government officials said Saturday.

The satellite, which no longer can be controlled, could contain hazardous materials, and it is unknown where on the planet it might come down, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret.

Folks, it is coming down – there is no might about it. I have no idea which bird this is but my guess is it is in a high inclination (large angle relative to the equator so it can go over the poles) low earth orbit (so it can circle the globe 13-15 times a day). It will come down. Sadly losing control is not good. Normally we can aim where a satellite will final ‘impact’ the Earth because we provide for fuel for end of life disposal. However, even large satellites burn mostly up and very little hits the surface of the Earth. I can site three examples: Mir, Skylab and Columbia. I note these for two reasons: they were incredibly large systems which fell to Earth in unplanned ways. In each case very little survived and no one was injured. It is simply the odds of being in the right place at the wrong time. Right now there is no way to know where this bird is coming – it could reenter over the Atlantic and Pacific. But I am not going to run around in a panic, right now and neither should anyone else.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Correcting The AP – Spy Satellite WILL Hit Earth”

  1. WWS says:

    Panicky people forget that something like 95% of the earth’s surface is vacant. (so much for the overcrowded earth theory) We got a 3 out of 4 chance of an ocean landing for anything that comes down)

    Nobody in the media ever thinks of applying a little math to problems like this. Let’s assume that the major impact will be limited to a square mile. (I know the shuttle debris was spread much wider, but the vast majority of that was basically buring strips of tinfoil and busted chunks of silicone coming down like confetti. I know, I lived in the debris path) Any *major* impact, ie the bulk of the mass if it holds together, (if it doesn’t hold together it will combust) is going to be small in size. There are 197 million square miles on the surface of the earth. If this thing is coming down randomly, that means that I, or you, or anyone else has a 1 in 197 million chance of being anywhere close to the final landfall.

    Odds are that this will be a bright streak in the sky somewhere over the pacific, and that’s all anyone will ever see of it.

  2. MerlinOS2 says:


    Its USA 193 an L-21 Radarsat that failed on injection into orbit when they put the bird up.

  3. MerlinOS2 says:

    U.S. NRO spy satellite may be total loss
    Wed Mar 7, 2007 10:17 AM IST
    By Andrea Shalal-Esa

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials are likely to declare a Lockheed
    Martin Corp. spy satellite a total loss after efforts to restore its
    ability to communicate failed repeatedly over the past three months,
    two defense officials told Reuters on Tuesday.

    The experimental L-21 classified satellite, built for the National
    Reconnaissance Office (NRO) at a cost of hundreds of millions of
    dollars, was launched successfully on Dec. 14 but has been out of
    touch since reaching its low-earth orbit.

    Limited data received from the satellite indicated that its on-board
    computer tried rebooting several times, but those efforts failed, said
    one official, who is knowledgeable about the program and spoke on
    condition of anonymity.

    The satellite carried sophisticated cameras to take high-resolution
    pictures and test equipment intended for use on the broader Future
    Imagery Architecture (FIA) program, in which both Boeing Co. and
    Lockheed are involved.

  4. MerlinOS2 says:

    Heck we just had Kosmos 099A re enter on the 16th of January and nobody got their panties in a bunch and that thing weighs a bit more than this one.

    I mean L-21 just isn’t a big bird it was launched back in December on a Delta II for package insertion so you know it can’t be more than a couple hundred pounds to start with unless they strapped on more than the usual first stage booster assist disposables to up the weight.

  5. MerlinOS2 says:

    Let me correct that , still looking for the bird specs but the max weight for the Delta II version with 9 GEMS attached for that launch would be in the 5 ton range depending on the launch fairing size they used.

  6. MerlinOS2 says:

    T+plus 42 minutes. This upcoming engine firing will put the vehicle into a more circular orbit than the current parking orbit. The target is 203 nautical miles at apogee, 191 miles at perigee and inclined 58.5 degrees.

  7. MerlinOS2 says:


    This is the designator which I believe you will know how to use

    29651 / 06057A