How to Down a Wayward Satellite

ABC's Luis Martinez reports the following new details on how the Navy would try to intercept USA-193, the disabled reconnaissance satellite the Pentagon announced yesterday it would try to destroy before it re-enters the atmosphere:

-- The total cost of the operation to hit the satellite is $74 million.  Three SM-3 missiles have been modified for this mission at a cost of $10 million each.  For comparison, the first test of an SM-3 fired from a destroyer last June cost $50 million.

-- The first missile will be fired from the cruiser USS Lake Erie. Two destroyers will also be a part of the mission and each will be equipped with back-up missiles. 

-- The ships will be operating in waters west of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, mainly because that is where the Navy's missile tests take place  Therefore, all the clearances, procedures and authorizations are already in place.

-- The seven or eight day window for launching the missile at the satellite begins Sunday, Feb. 17.  However, the Navy will not fire the missile until after the shuttle Atlantis returns to earth on Feb. 20. 

One extra point: there have been a lot of posts, some joking and others not, about where the remains of the satellite might land.  The government's problem is that it doesn't know.  The density of the upper atmosphere varies constantly because of temperature, solar wind, and other factors.  NOAA actually runs a Space Weather Prediction Center; find more HERE.


UPDATE, Friday evening:

ABC's Gina Sunseri, covering the current shuttle mission from Houston, reports that in order to get Atlantis on the ground and out of the Defense Department's way, it will activate the landing strips at both the Kennedy Space Center and Edwards Air Force Base in California on Wednesday, when the shuttle is scheduled to land.

This is not standard procedure.  To save expense and trouble, NASA usually only brings up KSC on the first landing day, and if the weather interferes, they wait.  It's actually cheaper to let the astronauts orbit for an extra day than it is to have landing crews at the ready at Edwards, and then ship a shuttle all the way across the country to Florida.

Atlantis, orbiting somewhat higher and in a very different orbit from USA 193, is not actually "in the way" of potential debris if the Navy's missile works, but shuttles have been dinged by small pieces of space junk before, and, well, things have gotten complicated enough. 

(Above: ABC News graphic, based on drawing from

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