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Archive for February, 2008

15-Feb-08 | Navy to “shoot down” USA 193

The U.S. Navy, “acting on orders from the Bush administration,” will launch a tactical missile from an Aegis cruiser to intercept and destroy the failed USA 193 experimental spy satellite (Delta 322), which is otherwise expected to reenter the atmosphere around mid-March. In so doing, the government hopes to “disperse its load of toxic hydrazine rocket fuel before it can… pose a threat to the public.” The intercept is planned for some time after shuttle Atlantis’ return to earth next week, but before the end of February. (Spaceflight Now, 14-Feb-08)

Although the satellite is very near the edge of the atmosphere and any debris generated by the intercept is expected to reenter within a few weeks, this action still seems highly risky in that it has the potential to deflect small, untrackable (but still deadly at orbital velocity) pieces of debris into higher orbits, where they could remain for a long duration. In addition, despite repeated assurances from the Pentagon spokesman—that eliminating the hydrazine threat is the sole purpose of the interception attempt—many independent observers (this author among them) continue to suspect that the real intent is to destroy highly-classified technology before it has a chance to reach foreign soil intact.

08-Feb-08 | ULA “not backing away from Delta II”

Last week the United Launch Alliance announced a restructuring of the Delta II program, “building upon its unparalleled record of mission success to make it more cost effective in a challenging market.” (ULA Press Release, via Spaceflight Now) Under the leadership of program director Rick Navarro, ULA will strive to remain “at the forefront of the medium-lift market.”

On the surface, the statement is vaguely reassuring with regard to Delta II’s future. However, it addresses few specifics of the restructuring plan, and “remain[ing] positioned to offer high reliability and competitively priced launch products to support the market needs” does not necessarily preclude a mothballing, temporary or otherwise, of America’s premier workhorse for spaceflight.



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