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Disabled spy satellite threatens Earth

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080126/ap_on_go_ot/dead_satellite Disabled spy satellite threatens Earth By EILEEN SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer 1 minute ago
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 26, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080126/ap_on_go_ot/dead_satellite

      Disabled spy satellite threatens Earth

      By EILEEN SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer 1 minute
      ago

      WASHINGTON - 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.

      "Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the
      situation," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the
      National Security Council, when asked about the
      situation after it was disclosed by other officials.
      "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."

      He would not comment on whether it is possible for the
      satellite to be perhaps shot down by a missile. He
      said it would be inappropriate to discuss any
      specifics at this time.

      A senior government official said that lawmakers and
      other nations are being kept apprised of the
      situation.

      Such an uncontrolled re-entry could risk exposure of
      U.S. secrets, said John Pike, a defense and
      intelligence expert. Spy satellites typically are
      disposed of through a controlled re-entry into the
      ocean so that no one else can access the spacecraft,
      he said.

      Pike also said it's not likely the threat from the
      satellite could be eliminated by shooting it down with
      a missile, because that would create debris that would
      then re-enter the atmosphere and burn up or hit the
      ground.

      Pike, director of the defense research group
      GlobalSecurity.org, estimated that the spacecraft
      weighs about 20,000 pounds and is the size of a small
      bus. He said the satellite would create 10 times less
      debris than the Columbia space shuttle crash in 2003.

      As for possible hazardous material in the spacecraft,
      Pike said it might contain beryllium, a light metal
      with a high melting point that is used in the defense
      and aerospace industries.

      Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow with the National
      Security Archive, said the spacecraft likely is a
      photo reconnaisance satellite. Such eyes in the sky
      are used to gather visual information from space about
      adversarial governments and terror groups, including
      construction at suspected nuclear sites or militant
      training camps. The satellites also can be used to
      survey damage from hurricanes, fires and other natural
      disasters.

      The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a NASA spacecraft
      was Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station that
      fell from orbit in 1979. Its debris dropped harmlessly
      into the Indian Ocean and across a remote section of
      western Australia.

      In 2000, NASA engineers successfully directed a safe
      de-orbit of the 17-ton Compton Gamma Ray Observatory,
      using rockets aboard the satellite to bring it down in
      a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.

      In 2002, officials believe debris from a 7,000-pound
      science satellite smacked into the Earth's atmosphere
      and rained down over the Persian Gulf, a few thousand
      miles from where they first predicted it would
      plummet.

      ___

      Associated Press writers Pamela Hess and Deb Riechmann
      contributed to this report.
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