Friday, February 15, 2008

Of Missles and Satellites, Oh My!

The official story of why are we planning to shoot down an "out-of-control, school-bus-size U.S. spy satellite is that it's carrying 1,000 pounds of toxic fuel that could kill lots of people somewhere in North America... if doesn't burn up on reentry. Not so fast there boys:

The announcement set off an immediate debate on defense blogs and among experts who questioned whether there is an ulterior motive. Some experts said the military is seizing an opportunity to test its controversial missile defense system against a satellite target.

But others noted that the Standard Missile-3 has successfully been tested against warhead targets, which are far smaller than the satellite.

"There has to be another reason behind this," said Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a liberal arms-control advocacy organization. "In the history of the space age, there has not been a single human being who has been harmed by man-made objects falling from space."

....[Gen. James] Cartwright said that the Aegis missile system aboard the cruiser would fire an SM-3 missile with a heat-seeking nose that destroys its target by hitting it, not blowing it up. The missile, known as Block III, was developed primarily for intermediate missile defense against warheads coming in at low altitude. The Navy has spent the past three weeks modifying missile software normally set for hitting much higher targets, he said.

Asked whether the plan is really an attempt to test the Aegis system as an anti-satellite system — which would be a very controversial step internationally — Cartwright said the amount of special modifications being done to the programs used to guide the system would "not be transferable to fleet use."

The operative sentence here that sets off all kind of alarm bells for me is "the Navy has spent the past three weeks modifying missile software". While I am not a software guru not a missile control guru, I didn't fall off the turnip truck last night. Modifying control software is not an easy thing to do. This is especially true when you consider that the Aegis software was probably in development and testing for years with probably 100,000 or more man hours spent in testing. There is something fishy here but we might just have to wait until the aftermath to discover the truth.
One idea is that the tracking of the satellite is more accurate than they are letting on and instead of "somewhere in North America" they have a much more accurate estimate of exactly where this Greyhound bus sized full of hydrazine is coming down and they are trying to prevent a serious incident. Just a guess but there has to be some good reason to try and modify a thoroughly tested missile guidance system in an insane three weeks time. Just saying.

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