Devon Island Expedition

Devon Island Expedition
This blog features educational updates on my Devon Island Expedition of July 14-20, 2007. Other sites:,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

US to Shoot Down Derelict Satellite

Wow. I read the news today about the decision by the US to shoot down a derelict reconaissance satellite, sometime in the next week. This strikes me as very odd. The story is that this satellite is going to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere soon and we cannot predict with sufficient accuracy where the large pieces will fall. Included in the expected debris, might be hydrazine fuel tanks which could land with hydrazine still in them.

While this is a legitimate concern, I must wonder about the decision to shoot it down. This action could actually make the situation worse, since we can't predict the trajectories of the pieces once the satellite is broken up. We might actually send debris back up into orbit which could threaten other objects. Or, we may cause pieces to hit areas of the Earth that they would not have, if we had done nothing. That is, we might divert debris onto populated areas that otherwise would not have been affected.

Could it be a political statement? Last year about this time, the Chinese tested an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) and successfully shot down one of their own aging satellites. This caused international outrage and complaints about the creation of more orbital debris. Why did China do it? Maybe it was a response to the US space policy which had just been released. In this policy, the US stated that we would deny access to space to powers that we deemed a threat. Could the Chinese test been a nose-thumb at us?

Enter today's decision. Could our derelict satellite be a target of opportunity to send a message back to the Chinese?

I hope for better relations between the two countries in the future. It is only through cooperation that we can achieve better understanding.

What do you think?

Leroy Chiao


Paolo Amoroso said...

Any risks for the STS-122 reentry?

Leroy Chiao said...

I'm sure that is being considered. At any rate, significant orbital debris is tracked by the US and will be take into account for the re-entry of STS-122.

Leroy Chiao