A little over a year ago, various talking heads and the interest groups they represent engaged in all sorts of hand-wringing about those crazy Chinese after the ASAT test demonstrated that China could, in fact, shoot down a satellite (well, technically blow up a satellite, since I believe one of the concerns was that it replaced one large chunk of debris with a massive cloud of tiny bits of debris, creating all sorts of potential hazards for other spacecraft in the future…).
So, in order to prevent the potential for some apparently highly sensitive US satellite technology to fall into the wrong hands – or, alternatively, to prevent a cow from being hit by a de-orbited piece of space junk -the US Navy is now going to attempt to shoot down one of our satellites that’s on an uncontrolled re-entry trajectory. There are a couple of concerns this brings to mind:
- If I recall my basic orbital mechanics and physics 101, wouldn’t some of the debris from said exploding satellite head up? And if so, will it create a problem for other LEO objects (read: still functioning satellites)?
- What if we miss? I mean, how bad does that look if we can’t hit one of our satellites after the Chinese made a point of showing that they can shoot down a satellite? So much for deterrence…. Now I know that we are aiming at a rapidly moving target (I may be wrong, but I believe the Chinese sat was in a stable fixed orbit and thus more of a “sitting duck” – but please correct me someone if you know otherwise…) and so it’s like playing in the minor leagues vs. T-ball in little league, but the vast majority of the world won’t split such hairs and will simply use this as another example to point out US “failings”. And I’m not sure this is such a good thing these days…
- Do we even really need to shoot this thing down? Is this more about having a chance to “test” one of our own ASATs then preventing the risk of (a) our technology falling in the wrong hands or (b) accidentally injuring someone on the ground if the satellite doesn’t completely vaporize…?
By the way… where did we get our ASAT? The way it sounded last year when the powers that be were bitching about the Chinese ASAT test, you would have thought they had invented some forbidden technology that all civilized countries had agreed we’d never invent (ha ha, just like ABMs in the 70s…). “Beelzebub! Beelzebub! Beelzebub!” Uh oh, now you’ve done it.