After all the excitement surrounding the possibility of asteroid 2007 WD5 hitting Mars and the concern of Near Earth Asteroid 2007 TU24 dropping toÂ Earth, we now have somethingÂ new (and manmade)Â to worry about. A US spy satellite has lost power and its orbitÂ has begun to degrade. Officials are sketchy about the details, but the large satellite could survive the burn of re-entry and crash into the surface… but we don’t know where. The satellite might contain dangerous materials… but we can’t be sure. Either way, the dead spy satellite is expected to drop to Earth late February or early March.
This event could prove embarrassing for the US government, as there is little idea where the site of impact will be, sensitive US secrets could be exposed about the technology behind the orbital capabilities of the superpower nation. Officials have declined to comment whether the satellite could be shot down by missile, but this will surely remain an option.
“Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause.” – Spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe
The problem doesn’t stop with the possibility of fatal damage should the satellite fall in the wrong place. An anonymous official has added there may be the possibility the satellite could be carrying hazardous materials. During atmospheric burn-up, this unknown material could be spread over thousands of miles of atmosphere.
This usually isn’t a concern when satellites and other debris are brought to Earth in controlled re-entries. LargeÂ defunct satellitesÂ can usually have their orbital trajectories finely tuned so they fall safely though the atmosphere and crash into “satellite graveyards” in deep ocean trenchesÂ (i.e. the Mir space station was guided out of orbit in 2001Â and sunk in the Pacific 6000 km off the Australian coast).
Remove All Ads on Universe Today
Join our Patreon for as little as $3!
Get the ad-free experience for life
Hopefully a solution to this tricky problem can be found quickly, but it is hoped that most of the satellite will disintegrate during re-entry and any leftovers drop into the ocean… but it would be nice to know if there isÂ a risk of impact anywhere other than the oceans.Â
66 Replies to “US Spy Satellite Could Crash To Earth In February”
Nice to know that we don’t have to worry only about near earth asteroids hitting us, but the satellites we put up there as well. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we got hit by one we put in orbit to look for these N.E.O.’s?
Say, if we knew what was the original orbit, can we please rule out the possibility of that thing going through my roof?
I like my roof. But seriously, can we be sure it will not hit above a certain latitude?
This reminds me of an episode of Northern Explosure where a satellite hit some guy and they had to make a special coffin to accommodate the aerials. I hope that wasn’t a prediction.
Think about the odd’s of being hit.. i’ll shoot myself if you’re within 1 mile.. I’m from south asia.. I’ve got better odd’s then you.. i’m not in the slightist worried..
Pffffttt, I consider the source – MSNBC. No doubt the slant on this story is given to make whatever part of government look bad. I’d wait for better information before I started carrying an umbrella.
I don’t get what makes some news stories blowup like this one. About a 1000 miles southwest of hawaii there is an a de-orbiting spash down area that goes active often and reported in NOTAMS and such, using words like “beware” . PS where are real stories about why can’t the space shuttle be fixxed or a differnt one rolled out and go pick this thing up? what about all those nasa/airforce mission there used to be? Can you land it that heavy.. I read described it in size as a bus weighing 22,000 lbs? Could Fraser and the Dr. do an emergency podcast?
Interesting that you don’t bring up that the satellite might contain nuclear materials used to power the radar systems of military satellites. Clearly military satellites have stealth capabilities, and do not have solar power panels because they make the satellite more obvious to observers and missile on the ground.
More worrying is the security issues, meaning that where the remains of the satellite falls will not be told to the public – especially disastrous if it reaches landfall in a foreign country/
As for Gordon Johndroe of the National Security Council, doesn’t he remember the Northern Canada disaster in 1978 of Cosmos 954, where nuclear material of the power core was spread across an area of 40,000 square kms of which 1%
was ever recovered.
In Australia, we also remember Skylab fall to Earth.
The U.S. behaviour here does not exude much confidence.
Actually, Andrew, Military spy sattelites dont have solar panels because in order to achieve the required resolution they had to orbit at extremely low levels. The solar panels would cause too much drag in the upper atmosphere.
Some russian spy sattelites reputedly had full blown nuclear reactors, not just RTG’s.
What incompetency the US displays if this satellite does indeed crash on earth. isn’t it that the scientists can calculate where on earth it is going to most likely hit? Then maybe intercept it before it reaches the ground? What if it hits a populated area? This is scarier that asteroids falling on earth. I hope the US will do something about this. I am from Asia and I really do hope that the US knows what they are doing. They are putting everyone, including us at the other part of the world, in danger.
What’s with all the “satellite might contain dangerous materialsâ€¦ but we can’t be sure” nonsense? Why can’t we be sure? Obviously another case of a military satellite about to spew plutonium across the world. But that’s OK as long as it’s the Pacific and not the U.S backyard, right? The incompetence of these people is criminal on a global scale.
I am from the US and I find it totally embarrassing that this is what NASA and our government has come to, “we don’t know blah blah blah.”. As a tax paying person, I beleive we should know. Do they honestly think we are stupid enough to believe they don’t know anything? Oh wait it’s the government- go figure.
OK look, it’s bad but I’m not sure it’s an embarassment. Your computer can break anytime, you car can break anytime, your plane can break anytime. It’s mechanics and computers, there’s no saying when these things give up living – space or not.
I find no surprise or disappointment in the U.S. government’s inability to control where the satellite would *naturally* impact; as Michelle said, failures occur, and it is quite likely that ground controllers simply have no means of communicating with the satellite.
However, I find it impossible to believe that we cannot employ any of our numerous radar tracking systems to determine the trajectory of a large, low-orbit satellite. Are we to believe that NASA can track an asteroid at over 500,000 km but cannot do the same for a school bus-sized object that is ten times closer to the Earth? Such information is almost certainly available, and it is gravely disconcerting that, in the interest of secrecy, the government is unwilling to release a projected impact area. Perhaps an army of amateur astronomers can take up the task; at the very least, it might force the U.S. government’s hand.
This satellite, USA 193 or 2006-57 A, cat# 29651, was launched 2006 Dec 14 into an orbit with an inclination of 58.5 degrees. So all land and sea between 60 degrees N and S have the potential that this sat, or pieces from it, can fall on it. Luckely 70% of eartharea is water, but most landmasses are concentrated on the northern hemisphere (where I live ;))).
Amateur satellite observers have been following this sat since launch. Even photo’s with telescopes have been made. Estimated size is 4-5 meters. Using decay sofware our group (Seesat-L) has calculated a decay around March 22, but due to solar activity this can change a lot. A few days before the decay a more realistic date and place can be obtained, but still with a lot of uncertaincy.
No, we can’t compute this far in advance where it will hit: we don’t know the upper atmosphere anything close to well enough, and the satellite is almost certainly tumbling, presenting a highly varied profile to the atmosphere.
No, we can’t send the shuttle up to retrieve it: the satellite is almost certainly in an orbit that takes it over the poles, or nearly so: we simply cannot launch the shuttle into an orbit with that sort of inclination.
I don’t know exactly what sort of “toxic materials” could be on board the satellite that wouldn’t burn up in the upper atmosphere, with the exception of a nuclear isotope power unit, which is rather unlikely – solar panels are a tried-and-true power solution for earth-orbiting satellites. AND we know how to build RTG’s that can withstand entry without failure. Fuels would be certain to evaporate/burn rapidly, and they would be of low-toxicity/low-energy. Remember: “hot” fuels are unstable and corrosive: not the sort of thing that one puts aboard a satellite for long-term attitude adjustment.
Any more idiot questions?
This kinda surprises me that the gov can’t control this. This is major imbarresment to the US. I know the Us government can do better at controling this. regaurdless of it dying off sometime in life. They have the technology to know and watch at what goes on and to see if the satellite is going to or getting ready to be critical or not. They should have put a GPS on it b4 it went up. Then we would have less worries of where its gonna land, When it is gonna land and who gets there hands on it.
This kinda surprises me that the Government can’t control this. This is major imbarresment to the US. Therefore, It reflects on how we all think and work in the US. I know the US government can do better at controling this situation. Reguardless of it dying off sometime in life. They have the technology to know and watch at what goes on and to see if the satellite is going to, or getting ready to be critical or not.
They should have simply put a GPS on it before it went up. Then we would have less worries of where its gonna land, When it is gonna land, and who gets there hands on it.
The Chinese or Russians probably lasered it and fried all it’s innards
there is no real danger from an old spy satallite falling back to earth. That what it is.
it is not an old spysat. It was launched in dec 2006, just 13 months ago. The sat was stuck in low parking orbit due to some failure.
The reason we don’t know where it will hit is due to the satellites highly inclined and eccentric orbit. also because the satellite can’t receive pings from us it also can’t respond by telling us where it is immediately, we couldn’t put a “gps” on it because it’s orbit carries it outside of the orbit of the positioning satellites and so they wouldn’t be able to see it anyway. Also the satellites structure may be such that it doesn’t simply punch through the atmosphere but instead skips along for several orbits largely changing its trajectory with every shallow dive into the stratosphere.
Why don’t we just ask China to shoot it down?Yea, I know, but I’m just jokling…..
Ed was right about the difficulty of predicting the exact time and place of reentry of an out-of-control satellite. Also about the impossibility of recovering a satellite with the shuttle — for many more reasons than just the impossibility of putting the shuttle into a high inclination, and perhaps high-eccentricity orbit.
But for all the coy official denials, the toxic materials on board that they are concerned with are almost certainly some kind of radioisotopic generator, and while it will probably land intact, it might not. And if it breaks open and spews over a populated area (or even an unpopulated one, like the Russian spy satellite that broke up over Canada), there will be PR hell to pay. It’s already been explained why a low periapsis satellite may not use solar panels.
As for fuels for attitude control systems, the most commonly used monopropellant for attitude control thrusters is hydrazine, which *is* highly toxic and corrosive. No guarantee this satellite uses those, but if it does that would be an additional concern… just not as serious as any radioactive contamination.
Let us hope that it returns to sender, and causes so much trouble the US will think seriously about chucking its rubbish into space. Can you imagine a large US city covered in a lite dusting of plutonium, for the next 50 million years!
Re. “Falling Spy Satellite”, Maine songwriter offers comedy song (“Satellite Hop”), and dancing civil defense exercise (S.P.L.A.T.) to help world citizens evade debris:
In the hope your online readers may enjoy a few laughs, along with all the “Chicken Little”-like angst, as we await the debris from the U.S. Spy Satellite:
Please visit: http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=170140 and click on the (dark-colored) arrrow to hear my song, “SATELLITE HOP”. There is no charge to listen the song online.
The song, which first aired on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” show just prior to the fall of the 80 ton Skylab space station in 1979, introduces a “dancing civil defense technique” called, “S.P.L.A.T.”, the “Satellite Protective Leaping Avoidance Technique”.
I urge all your readers, and all your colleagues to encourage people worldwide to practice their own S.P.L.A.T. routines in time to the song. Though I’m still searching for the empirical evidence, I feel reasonably secure in claiming my song made a significant contribution to public safety during the fall of Skylab, and can do the same in the event the U.S. spy satellite falls on your neighborhood (God forbid) in the coming weeks.
With thanks and best wishes (don’t forget to wear a helmet!),
Mike Nobel, songwriter, Gorham, Maine
2006-57 A, USA 193, is in an almost circular orbit between 270 and 280 km based on a Jan 22 orbital element set from amateur satellite observers.
John Locker from England has photographed this sat with his telescope. It showed no signs of (partly) extended solar panels. It just looks like a big box about 4-5 m long.
Why am I not surprise??? This is yet another reason to pull the plug on the “space program”! Think of all the billions of tax dollars that go to waste on this program. And now we get to spend even more of out tax dollars cleaning up their mess? I don’t think so! And hazardous materials a maybe??? I would think that huge chunks of steel raining down at a thousand miles per hour just might cause a little bit of a hazard. What do you think? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out! OH WAIT…You ARE rocket scientist!!! I think its time to change THAT cliche’!
wow, why is everyone so pissed about this? calm down a little.
Yeah, Ed, I have an idiot question:
Were you born a jerk or did your momma teach that to you?
Now seriously. NASA probably has little influence over this satellite, as it is a government spy satellite, likely controlled by the Air Force, i n which case the few NASA folks who know anything are sworn on pain of prosecution not to disclose.
Now, the military saying “maybe there’s something bad on board” is an attempt to use wishful thinking that the nasty stuff will hit the ground intact, and when it crashes into some poor schmuck’s back yard, they can come in and do the usual “nothing to see here” and safely cover their butts. Sadly, this is only wishful thinking.
Since its a classified payload, there is no telling whats onboard. Could be an RTG, could be a nuclear reactor. There’s evidence that the Soviets used them, but not the US, but that doesnt mean we don’t use them. It just means we have never been caught using them.
It’s only going to be an embarrassment if it lands in a populated area, and if its potentially hazardous payload is spread over a large area, and if it lands in another country and is recovered by officials in that country (how dare you other countries not cowtow to the US’ obvious superiority!).
This all sounds highly arrogant. Seems like our government is full of people like Ed. And idiots. Probably most of them are both. Little worse than an idiot who thinks everyone else is an idiot.
Oh, one last thing. If you think that a “light dusting” of plutonium over a US city is gonna stay over that one city, think again. After just a few years (or months), this dust will spread all over the world and join the cumulative fallout from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and all the nukes exploded in the atmosphere and other fallen devices with “hazardous” material. We will all pay, no matter who drops it or where it lands.
No conspiracy to latch on to here folks… For whatever reason the sat. had a complete power system failure. That means no communications, no RCS for adjusting attitude or orbit. Simply put, NOBODY HOME. No engineer or rocket scientist can predict when or where this baby’s gonna retrograde or de-orbit. So sit back, relax, and wait. Blaming NASA, NORAD, DoD or even the tooth fairy won’t change the fact that this one’s comin’ home…… Thanks Ed, for some logical responses. Bill
I think that as a group we should be PRAYING that this thing hits ocean and NOWHERE else! Let’s at least try to avoid a possible disaster. With persistence we have the power to make this happen. Power of prayer, creating reality, whatever you want to call it, works provided belief in such, so let’s try. Who’s with me?
i think its all rubbish!!!!
interesting how the news doesnt talk about such things to avaiod crazy rumors and panic. The samew thing happened in 1992, when one of our satelittes went down in persian gulf. funny how many of our soldiers came home sick. they blamed it on imaginary biological warfare from saddam. just like his wmd’s. gotta love our government cover ups.
i think it will crash and E.T will come out of it
honestly, let’s hope it crashes in the oceans. i don’t want to think about the fact that in a month i might die if it hits near me. I don’t want to think that if there’s hazardous stuff we could ALL die. I blame the government for not telling us the truth in the first place. And if this thing does survive the atmosphere, it’s not going to be just a satillite crashing; it’ll be all our tax dollars, too. why do we need a spy satillite anyway? and i agree with cody. in a comical way i think it will crash and E.T. or yoda will come out. that or either a space disease.
I was wondering does anyone have a projected trajectory of this satellite. It seems everyone has a comment, but no solid evidence on where it will approximately land. I would even consider within one thousand miles. Thanks folks
Just blow it up with a satellite missle!!!!
The U/S government knows precisely what is in that satellite. If they do not, then they should all be dismissed for sheer bloody incompetence, so they DO.
Okay, why won’t they tell us what it is that is likely to dust us? It surely isn’t some brand new propulsion system that nobody has ever thought of before: what it is is powdered paranoia. I’ve worked for various ‘secret’ parts of DoD/ NASA/ stuff like that, and you can have two departments next door of each other, – one has solved a problem, the next guy is just starting on it. They don’t talk: they’re not allowed to talk. Coming in as a consultant, I was constantly amazed at the pointless redundancies and useless repetitions created by empire building pipsqueaks who would rather spend tax dollars on stupidity than get their asses in gear and do something innovative. Whatever is in that baby was probably invented in 1958, but they daren’t admit it because they don’t want to look backward or primitive or stupid in front of the rest of the world. As long as it can be recovered before the rest of the world can get to it, then the U/S feels safe.
Incidentally, the reason for the / in U/S is because that’s how the Brits abbreviate USELESS. Which is what they are.
Honestly, with how far we have come in technology, I’m sure there has to be a way to predict the landing site. Can someone please just tell us where it’s going to land? That way, if it IS on land and near population, we can get those people out of there.
I agree with Fred, why can’t we blow it up before it hits us? Also, I’m probably wrong here- someone correct me if I am, but it makes sense to me that the US governement (knowing them) would install a self-destruct button that would be operatble from Earth to set off in case there IS some confidential information inside and another country was to get to it somehow. Or if there was a situation just like this, where it died and was going to come crashing down. But someone needs to do something. Fast. I’d like to live to see a few more birthdays.
well, how can the military construct a missile that will intercept a moving object moving @ a speed of 16,000 mph,, once it hit the earths atomophere…. just our luck it might hit N. Korea , and that will interefere with peace tready and plung us into World War 3′ if that missile misses its target and hitting N. Korea…
There seems to be an ever increasing number of people that just feel like the US should tell them exactly where this thing is going to fall.I would love to know as well.However its a “TOP SECRET” satellite ? That being said they aren’t going to say squat about where its heading.
As to the United States negligence etc.Like someone else posted its a machine and machines break down.If this was a communications satellite or your local Tv Dish satellite nobody would making such a big fuss.
Oh and by the way no matter what they do pieces will come back down.This is a fact.Many satellites have come down over the years and many pieces they thought would have burned up- didn’t .
Some are speculating that the US is just showing off and flexing its technology muscles .As for me I would like to know if they can hit an object in low earth orbit because there are far bigger threats out there than just some spy sat.Would if this was an asteroid .Maybe practice isnt such a bad thing ? Think about it- then comment.
if we have to wait for it to enter atmosphere to shoot it, what happens when an asteroid gets here ,to late
Have we no problems as to what we are dropping in our oceans, if it’s harmful on land, whats the difference in the harmfulness to marine life, and potential water supply. We don’t know what all has been put in space. What goes up must come down. Do we have a junk yard in space that we don’t know about?
One guy commented that HE had a higher probability of being hit because he lives in Asia. What are you like 10-100x larger than the average human being because you live in Asia? Anyway…
I assume that an interception is impossible to the sat’s mass and velocity (not to mention the inclination etc. already mentioned).
We SHOULD be able to hit an object that size moving at that speed, though doing so would definitely spread whatever hazardous materials “may” be onboard which MIGHT not happen if it’s allowed to fall.
What if we detonated something just in front of and below its orbit so as to bump it out of orbit and jettison it into space? Not sure if that’s actually feasible or that that wouldn’t have essentially the same result as hitting it, but it’s just a thought. Or is it that the intel onboard worth sacrificing a few lambs?
Bush, I back you all the way, seriously.
I really don’t get it…why do we not get more info on this i know that the gov knows all about this…. we vote for presidents and all that,but we can not know whats going on in this sickening world …. i personally won’t vote for president b/c they all suck they all say they will do this and that…it never happens….we get tore apart everyday by those people i mean are world is a sick word, a betrayed world and all the above…i mean why should they tell us anything about this they don’t worry b/c they have a safe place to hide out in mountains and ect ….they don’t really care about this world..they just want to be called president or something big… and try to rule this world they are doing a really sucky job might i add……i can’t believe how this world is today,,,,and untill i see improvement in all this crap.. i will never vote i can say alot more but, i get to fired up…but yea have you ever sat there and thought about how they have places to go when these things happen,.,,and we are just sitting here waiting to die from it…
The picture in this article looks to be from the Challenger disaster, not from a satellite re-entry or meteor entry. Is this so?
So the U/S government is going to spend $60M of my taxes to destroy something that shouldn’t have been lobbed into space in the first place. Hopefully, the next piece of crap to fall out of the sky will be the space station. WHAT A DAMN WASTE OF MONEY!
This is very sad to me to hear people speak of our space program so negatively. Do you not care about the things that they’ve made it possible for you to learn? Should we just have gone on living in the dark when it comes to our Galaxy? I realize they made a mistake and you’re all angry because they haven’t informed you of every little detail. I guess you’d be even angrier if you thought about EVERY other little thing they don’t tell us.
But, just so we’re all aware…especially those of us from other countries who seem intent on bad-mouthing the US…there are eight other space programs in the world with launch capabilities. These would be Russia, France, China, Japan, The United Kingdom, The European Space Agency, India, and Israel. And, there are still countless other space programs without launch capability. My point? This mistake could have been made by anyone else and then we’d be complaining about how stupid they are. God, it would be nice if everyone thought of themselves as human beings instead of in terms of nationality.
I hope this harms no one…not Americans, Russians, North Koreans, Chinese, French, etc. There are innocent, good people everywhere and I would never wish any harm on a group of people based on some moronic stereotype I held to be true.
And, lastly, that whole “what goes up must come down” thing doesn’t really hold true in space considering the lack of gravity.
I think a bomb needs to be placed in all satellites, when they approach a certain altitude above earth they explode and during re-entry all parts will burn up.
This one is the size of a bus and weighs about 10 tonnes, how much is likely to burn up on re-entry?
P.S, this satellite flys over New Zealand where I live tomorrow and continues to do so for about 4 days according to reports, sure as hell hope it doesn’t breach our no nukes policy!
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. But, why don’t you try telling that to all the countries in this pleasant world, who are under oppression or war, suffering famine, disease, lack of water, education, etc. And the US pisses away trillions of dollars bringing it’s form of ‘democracy’ to the world, starwars for its defence, and space ventures we can all live without. We only have one world, and it’s rapidly becoming unlivable.
Usually it`ll fall into the ocean..
Say, what happens if we miss when we try to shoot it down what next, is there more than one missle so we can try again, or is it that we miss and it crashes to earth releases the gasses from the fuel and we all die?
Sojourner, what if it doesn’t than what?
I think the only reason we are shooting it down is to brag about our technology these days to all the other countrys…
I think the only reason we are shooting it down is to brag about our technology these days to all the other countrys!
oh yeah the meteor is suposed to hit yucatan peninsula and all this stuffs gonna ither kill us or let us live in a burnt up hell hole plz tell ppl about this meteor its no joke
Ok there is a 25 percent possibility that it will hit land and 75 percent that it will hit the water but still its not that big it could land in a open field or it could just totally fry in the sky making some cool fireworks.
Every Body Breathe
i live in virginia toward the mountain area and what happens if it hits in NY will i get like poisned or something? im really scared it will land on top of me! i need to live me life to the fullest…. im terrified actually
man this sucks if this dosnt kill us that huge ass metor will u guys know the one thats suposed to hit in 2020 and thats suposed to kill all life on earth
I can’t believe you are worrying about it.
There is nothing you can do.
There is a greater chance of you being hit by lightning.
Malfunctioning spy satellite USA 193 has been in the news lately because of expectations that it will reenter Earth’s atmosphere in March and turn into a spectacular fireball. Reentry has not yet begun, but sky watchers are already noticing the satellite as it zips over Europe and the United States shining as brightly as a first or second magnitude star. Typical photos are shown on spaceweather.com. In fact, USA 193 may never reenter, at least not in one piece. The Pentagon has announced it will attempt to blast the satellite with a missile before its orbit decays. This would lessen the chances of dangerous satellite debris and fuel reaching the ground while increasing the population of space junk in low-Earth orbit. Would you like to see USA 193 with your own eyes? It is about to make a series of evening appearances over many U.S. towns and cities, beginning this weekend and continuing until the Pentagon intervenes. Flyby timetables may be found at heavens-above.com. You can receive telephone and email alerts when the satellite is about to fly over your backyard by subscribing to spaceweatherphone.com
It’s getting shot. Chillax.
look , lits say if it comes to USA the the whole state will be gone like macsico and other countries and people says that 50 % possible it crash in australia and australia next to it isthe sea so it will do a tosonamy to the gulf countries and the ones next to it and i heard the news says that in the sattelite there is hazardous chimecal and in the sattelite fuel its toxic if its burn …..
They shot the thing down already. You’re all fine. You will live to worry another day. The largest pieces falling from the sky now are the size of footballs. They are falling over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. And, they are pretty sure they hit the fuel tank when they shot it. So, not very much to be concerned about anymore.
Man i wish it had landed right smack in the middle of China. That would be F N hilarious
Comments are closed.