Failed Satellite Set to Be Shot Down This Week

By: CNN
By: CNN

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy will likely attempt to shoot down a faulty spy satellite Thursday, the day after the space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to land, two officials told CNN Monday.

A Delta II rocket lifts off in December, carrying a reconnaissance satellite that failed hours later.

The officials -- who spoke on condition of anonymity because much of the planning remains classified -- said the idea is to leave as much time as possible so a second attempt could be made if necessary.

Because the 5,000-pound satellite malfunctioned immediately after launch in December 2006, it has a full tank of fuel. It would likely survive re-entry and disperse potentially deadly fumes over an area the size of two football fields, officials have said.

The Navy plans to fire at the satellite as it enters Earth's atmosphere at an altitude of about 150 miles.

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Officials want the missile to hit the edge of the atmosphere to ensure debris re-enters and burns up quickly.

The Missile Defense Agency estimated the cost of a sea-based attempted intercept at $40 million to $60 million.

Without any intervention, Pentagon officials have said they believe the satellite would come down on its own in early March.

The option of striking the satellite with a missile launched from an Aegis cruiser was decided upon by President Bush after consultation with several government and military officials and aerospace experts, said Deputy National Security Adviser James Jeffrey.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said there's nothing the military can do to make the outcome worse.

"If we miss, nothing changes. If we shoot and barely touch it, the satellite is just barely in orbit" and would still burn up somewhat in the atmosphere, Griffin said.

"If we shoot and get a direct hit, that's a clean kill and we're in good shape," he added.


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