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USA 193

USA 193

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USA-193, also known as NRO launch 21 (NROL-21 or simply L-21), was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 military spy satellite
Spy satellite
A spy satellite is an Earth observation satellite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications....

 launched on December 14, 2006. It was the first launch conducted by the United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. ULA was formed in December 2006 by combining the teams at these companies which provide spacecraft launch services to the government of the United States. U.S...

. Owned by the National Reconnaissance Office
National Reconnaissance Office
The National Reconnaissance Office , located in Chantilly, Virginia, is one of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. It designs, builds, and operates the spy satellites of the United States government.-Mission:...

 (NRO), the craft's precise function and purpose were classified
Classified information
Classified information is sensitive information to which access is restricted by law or regulation to particular groups of persons. A formal security clearance is required to handle classified documents or access classified data. The clearance process requires a satisfactory background investigation...

.

The satellite malfunctioned shortly after deployment, and was intentionally destroyed 14 months later on February 21, 2008, by a modified, $9.5 million SM-3
RIM-161 Standard Missile 3
The RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 is a ship-based missile system used by the US Navy to intercept short-to intermediate-range ballistic missiles as a part of Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. Although primarily designed as an anti-ballistic missile, the SM-3 has also been employed in an...

 missile fired from the warship USS Lake Erie
USS Lake Erie (CG-70)
USS Lake Erie is a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser in the United States Navy. She is named for the decisive USN victory in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812....

, stationed west of Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

. The event highlighted growing distrust between the U.S. and China, and was viewed by some to be part of a wider "space race" involving the U.S., China, and Russia.

Design


USA-193 was part of the NRO's Future Imagery Architecture
Future Imagery Architecture
Future Imagery Architecture was a program to design a new generation of optical and radar imaging US reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office . In 2005 NRO director Donald Kerr recommended the project's termination, and the optical component of the program was finally...

, which was begun in 1997 to produce a fleet of inexpensive reconnaissance satellites, but has become the agency's most spectacular failure. USA-193 was initially developed by Boeing
Boeing
The Boeing Company is an American multinational aerospace and defense corporation, founded in 1916 by William E. Boeing in Seattle, Washington. Boeing has expanded over the years, merging with McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Boeing Corporate headquarters has been in Chicago, Illinois since 2001...

, which won the contract in 1999, beating out Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technology company with worldwide interests. It was formed by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta in March 1995. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Washington Metropolitan Area....

 with proposals for innovative electro-optics and radar. But after cost overruns, delays, and parts failures, NRO sent the contract to Lockheed, which built USA-193 around the Boeing radar design. Lockheed Martin and Boeing both supported the launch, the first in the joint effort known as the United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. ULA was formed in December 2006 by combining the teams at these companies which provide spacecraft launch services to the government of the United States. U.S...

.

USA-193 weighed about 5000 pounds (2,268 kg), with a body thought to be 15 feet (5 m) long and 8 feet (2 m) wide, estimates based on the maximum Delta II payload. With the radar antenna extended, USA-193 was about the size of a basketball court (~30 x 15m).

Launch data

  • Launched: December 14, 2006 at 21:00:00 UTC
  • Launch vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II-7920
    Delta II
    Delta II was an American space launch system, originally designed and built by McDonnell Douglas. Delta II is part of the Delta rocket family and was in service from 1989 until November 1, 2011...

     rocket
  • Launch site: Vandenberg Air Force Base
    Vandenberg Air Force Base
    Vandenberg Air Force Base is a United States Air Force Base, located approximately northwest of Lompoc, California. It is under the jurisdiction of the 30th Space Wing, Air Force Space Command ....

    , California
    California
    California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

    , United States
  • Launch facility: Space Launch Complex 2W
    Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 2
    Space Launch Complex 2 is an active rocket launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, USA. It consists of two launch pads. The East pad , which has been demolished, was used for Delta, Thor-Agena and Thorad launches between 1966 and 1972...

  • Orbit data
    Orbital elements
    Orbital elements are the parameters required to uniquely identify a specific orbit. In celestial mechanics these elements are generally considered in classical two-body systems, where a Kepler orbit is used...

    : not officially available, as spy satellites often change position and do not have regular orbits. Reported by amateur observers to be (perigee
    Perigee
    Perigee is the point at which an object makes its closest approach to the Earth.. Often the term is used in a broader sense to define the point in an orbit where the orbiting body is closest to the body it orbits. The opposite is the apogee, the farthest or highest point.The Greek prefix "peri"...

    , apogee, inclination
    Inclination
    Inclination in general is the angle between a reference plane and another plane or axis of direction.-Orbits:The inclination is one of the six orbital parameters describing the shape and orientation of a celestial orbit...

    ):
    • 349 km × 365 km × 58.48° after launch,
    • 255 km × 268 km × 58.48° on 2008-02-11,
    • 244 km × 261 km × 58.50° on 2008-02-19.
    • The orbit was decaying at an increasing rate.

Malfunction and orbital decay


The satellite entered orbit successfully but lost contact with the ground within hours.

In late January 2008, reports from anonymous U.S. officials indicated a U.S. spy satellite, later confirmed as USA-193, was in a deteriorating orbit
Orbital decay
Orbital decay is the process of prolonged reduction in the altitude of a satellite's orbit.This can be due to drag produced by an atmosphere due to frequent collisions between the satellite and surrounding air molecules. The drag experienced by the object is larger in the case of increased solar...

 and was expected to crash onto Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 within weeks. This came as no surprise to amateur satellite watchers
Satellite watching
Satellite watching or satellite spotting is a hobby which consists of the observation and tracking of Earth artificial satellites. People with this hobby are variously called satellite watchers, trackers, spotters, observers, etc....

, who had been predicting the deorbit of the satellite for some time.

Hazardous materials on-board


Federal Emergency Management Agency
Federal Emergency Management Agency
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, initially created by Presidential Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1978 and implemented by two Executive Orders...

 (FEMA) reports indicate that the satellite contained the hazardous materials hydrazine
Hydrazine
Hydrazine is an inorganic compound with the formula N2H4. It is a colourless flammable liquid with an ammonia-like odor. Hydrazine is highly toxic and dangerously unstable unless handled in solution. Approximately 260,000 tons are manufactured annually...

 and beryllium
Beryllium
Beryllium is the chemical element with the symbol Be and atomic number 4. It is a divalent element which occurs naturally only in combination with other elements in minerals. Notable gemstones which contain beryllium include beryl and chrysoberyl...

. Though there was some speculation that the satellite might have a "nuclear" power core, i.e. a radioisotope thermoelectric generator
Radioisotope thermoelectric generator
A radioisotope thermoelectric generator is an electrical generator that obtains its power from radioactive decay. In such a device, the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive material is converted into electricity by the Seebeck effect using an array of thermocouples.RTGs can be...

, the FEMA report indicates otherwise.

On January 29, 2008 an Associated Press
Associated Press
The Associated Press is an American news agency. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which both contribute stories to the AP and use material written by its staff journalists...

 story quoted a U.S. Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 general as saying that contingency plans were being made since intact pieces of the satellite "might re-enter into the North American area".

In respecting the Liability Convention
Liability Convention
The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, also known as the Space Liability Convention, is a treaty that expands on the liability rules created in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Because relatively few accidents have occurred resulting from space objects, the...

, the United States vowed to pay for any damage or destruction caused by their failed satellite.

Destruction


Planning for the destruction of USA-193 with a missile reportedly began on January 4, 2008, with President Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 approving the plan on February 12, at an expected cost of $
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

40 million to $60 million. The task force had as its goal to "rupture the fuel tank to dissipate the approximately 1,000 pounds (453 kg) of hydrazine, a hazardous fuel which could pose a danger to people on Earth, before it entered into Earth's atmosphere".

On February 14, 2008, U.S. officials announced the plan to destroy USA-193 before atmospheric reentry
Atmospheric reentry
Atmospheric entry is the movement of human-made or natural objects as they enter the atmosphere of a celestial body from outer space—in the case of Earth from an altitude above the Kármán Line,...

, stating that the intention was "saving or reducing injury to human life". They said that if the hydrazine tank fell to Earth it "could spread a toxic cloud roughly the size of two football fields". General James Cartwright confirmed that the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 was preparing to launch an SM-3 missile
RIM-161 Standard Missile 3
The RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 is a ship-based missile system used by the US Navy to intercept short-to intermediate-range ballistic missiles as a part of Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. Although primarily designed as an anti-ballistic missile, the SM-3 has also been employed in an...

 to destroy the satellite, at an altitude of 130 nautical miles (240.8 km), shortly before it entered Earth's atmosphere.

On February 21, 03:26 GMT an SM-3 missile was fired from the Ticonderoga class missile cruiser
Ticonderoga class cruiser
The Ticonderoga class of missile cruisers is a class of warships in the United States Navy, first ordered and authorized in FY 1978. The class uses phased-array radar and was originally planned as a class of destroyers...

 USS Lake Erie, and intercepted USA-193 about 133 nautical miles (247 kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean. The satellite was travelling with a velocity of about 17,500 mph (around 28,000 km/h or 7.8 km/s). The velocity of the impact was about 22,000 mph. The Department of Defense expressed a "high degree of confidence" that the fuel tank was hit and destroyed. The satellite's remnants were expected to burn up over the course of the next 40 days, with most of the satellite's mass re-entering the atmosphere 24 to 48 hours after the missile strike.

U.S. officials denied that the action was intended to prevent sensitive technology falling into foreign hands, and also denied that it was a response to the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test
2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test
The 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test was conducted by China on January 11, 2007. A Chinese weather satellite—the FY-1C polar orbit satellite of the Fengyun series, at an altitude of , with a mass of 750 kg—was destroyed by a kinetic kill vehicle traveling with a speed of 8 km/s in...

. This was not the first time the United States shot down one of its own satellites; the Air Force had shot down a satellite as early as 1985.
Although the U.S. had objected to the earlier Chinese test of an anti-satellite (or ASAT) weapon
Anti-satellite weapon
Anti-satellite weapons are designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes. Currently, only the United States, the former Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China are known to have developed these weapons. On September 13, 1985, the United States destroyed US...

, U.S. officials said there was "no parallel" with that test. The Chinese test destroyed a target in a high, stable orbit, leaving a large amount of space debris
Space debris
Space debris, also known as orbital debris, space junk, and space waste, is the collection of objects in orbit around Earth that were created by humans but no longer serve any useful purpose. These objects consist of everything from spent rocket stages and defunct satellites to erosion, explosion...

 in orbit, while the destruction of USA-193 in a much lower orbit would create debris that would likely deorbit within weeks.

Controversy


The Russian government claims that this exercise was a test of the U.S. missile defense program. The defense ministry of Russia accused the U.S. of using the hydrazine worries as a cover for a test of an ASAT, and noted that extraordinary measures had never before been needed to deal with the many spacecraft that had fallen to Earth. Indeed, the New York Times had paraphrased Gordon Johndroe
Gordon Johndroe
Gordon Johndroe was Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush, Deputy Press Secretary and a spokesman for the United States National Security Council...

, spokesman for the United States National Security Council
United States National Security Council
The White House National Security Council in the United States is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials and is part of the Executive Office of the...

, as stating that 328 objects had deorbited (controlled and uncontrolled) in the previous 5-year period.
However, U.S. officials maintained that the large quantity of hydrazine on board made USA-193 a special case. According to General Kevin P. Chilton
Kevin P. Chilton
Kevin Patrick "Chilli" Chilton , is an engineer and a former United States Air Force four-star general. His last assignment was as Commander, U.S. Strategic Command from October 3, 2007 to January 28, 2011. Prior to his appointment to general officer ranks, Chilton spent 11 years of his military...

, when President Bush was briefed on the situation, the danger that shooting down the satellite would be perceived as an ASAT test was brought up, and President Bush made his decision based on the dangers of an uncontrolled reentry.

Other observers dismiss the threat of the hydrazine, suggesting that the effect of the cloud, when diluted over a large area, would likely be mild: "The hydrazine tank is a 1-meter sphere containing about 400 liters of hydrazine. The stated hazard area is about 2 hectares, something like 1/10,000,000,000 of the area under the orbit. The potential for actual harm is unbelievably small." Other analyses, such as those cited by Yousaf Butt, show the hydrazine tank burning up in the upper atmosphere.

Two examples of uncontrolled atmospheric re-entries causing (or almost causing) damage are the 1978 re-entry of Cosmos 954
Cosmos 954
Kosmos 954 was a Soviet Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite with an onboard nuclear reactor. The satellite was launched on September 18, 1977 and was designed to track nuclear submarines...

, a Soviet satellite, which landed in Canada and spread dangerous amounts of radioactive materials over large tracts of land, and Skylab
Skylab
Skylab was a space station launched and operated by NASA, the space agency of the United States. Skylab orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979, and included a workshop, a solar observatory, and other systems. It was launched unmanned by a modified Saturn V rocket, with a mass of...

's 1979 re-entry, which rattled windows and dropped small pieces of debris onto buildings in Esperance
Esperance, Western Australia
Esperance is a large town in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia, located on the Southern Ocean coastline approximately east-southeast of the state capital, Perth. The shire of Esperance is home to 9,536 people as of the 2006 census, its major industries are tourism, agriculture,...

, Western Australia
Western Australia
Western Australia is a state of Australia, occupying the entire western third of the Australian continent. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, the Great Australian Bight and Indian Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east...

 (no significant monetary damage resulted, but the U.S. was symbolically fined $400 for littering). No weapon existed in 1978 to bring down Cosmos 954, and a Soviet anti-satellite weapon (Istrebitel Sputnik
Istrebitel Sputnik
Istrebitel Sputnik , or IS , was a Soviet anti-satellite weapons programme which led to the deployment of the IS-A or I2P system during the 1970s and 1980s...

), the first of its kind, was declared operational only ten days before Skylab re-entered the atmosphere, and was not capable of directing the space station's descent.

Before the destruction of USA-193, Pentagon
The Pentagon
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the U.S. military, "the Pentagon" is often used metonymically to refer to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself.Designed by the American architect...

 officials repeatedly denied that it was meant to bolster the U.S. missile defense program. Six days after USA-193's destruction, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said, "the mission's success shows that U.S. plans for a missile-defense system are realistic" though in the same statement it was confirmed that the weapons and systems used for this mission will not retain their ASAT capability, and will be reconfigured back to their original purpose as tactical missile.

Debris


The launch of at least one other satellite was postponed to avoid space debris from USA-193. An Atlas V
Atlas V
Atlas V is an active expendable launch system in the Atlas rocket family. Atlas V was formerly operated by Lockheed Martin, and is now operated by the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance...

 launch hot line recording indicated the debris would delay the launch of a different National Reconnaissance Office satellite (NRO L-28) as, "a precautionary measure."

See also

  • P78-1
    P78-1
    P78-1 or Solwind was a United States satellite launched aboard an Atlas F rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 24, 1979. The satellite operated until September 13, 1985, when it was shot down in orbit by an F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft during an US Air Force ASM-135 ASAT...

    , a US satellite in a 290 miles (466.7 km) orbit that was destroyed during a 1985 US Air Force ASM-135 ASAT
    ASM-135 ASAT
    The ASM-135 ASAT is an air-launched anti-satellite multi stage missile that was developed by Ling-Temco-Vought'sLTV Aerospace division. The ASM-135 was carried exclusively by the United States Air Force 's F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft.-Development:...

     test.
  • 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test
    2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test
    The 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test was conducted by China on January 11, 2007. A Chinese weather satellite—the FY-1C polar orbit satellite of the Fengyun series, at an altitude of , with a mass of 750 kg—was destroyed by a kinetic kill vehicle traveling with a speed of 8 km/s in...

  • Anti-satellite weapon
    Anti-satellite weapon
    Anti-satellite weapons are designed to incapacitate or destroy satellites for strategic military purposes. Currently, only the United States, the former Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China are known to have developed these weapons. On September 13, 1985, the United States destroyed US...

  • Kill vehicle
    Kill vehicle
    Kill vehicle is a term from space weapon development and science fiction which denotes either a kinetic projectile or an explosive warhead supposed to impact on or near a target...

  • Space debris
    Space debris
    Space debris, also known as orbital debris, space junk, and space waste, is the collection of objects in orbit around Earth that were created by humans but no longer serve any useful purpose. These objects consist of everything from spent rocket stages and defunct satellites to erosion, explosion...

  • Space warfare
    Space warfare
    Space warfare is combat that takes place in outer space, i.e. outside the atmosphere. Space warfare therefore includes ground-to-space warfare, such as attacking satellites from the Earth, as well as space-to-space warfare, such as satellites attacking satellites.It does not include the use of...


External links



  • Zarya: Digest and Maps of the USA-193 Interception
  • SatTrackCam Leiden: USA 193 imminent decay in the news
  • Video of press meeting on the planned destruction (WMV format) and transcript
  • Local viewing opportunities: Heavens-Above.com
  • CNN: U.S. to shoot down satellite Wednesday, official says
  • Satobs.org: Trajectory Chart
  • USA 193 Current Orbit Data - heavens-above.com