Thursday, February 21, 2008

U.S. military provides new details about satellite "shootdown" plans

A full transcript of a DoD background briefing - meaning that the speakers remain anonymous - has just been released. It took place on Feb. 20, only minutes after the Atlantis had returned from space. Key statements (emphasis mine): "So we're now into the window, okay, the length of the window. There's some significant ambiguity at the back end of the window, based, as I said at the time, on how high the atmosphere is on any given day, because that then tells you when the satellite naturally would start to hit the atmosphere. So we want to catch it before it naturally hits the atmosphere, because when it hits the atmosphere, it tumbles and it's next to impossible to track. So we're pretty comfortable right now that we'll have windows available to us through about the 29th or 30th.

And then after that it will really start to become, let's say, more ambiguous, because we're trying to predict the weather out that far. So that's kind of the period, starting today and running basically out to about the 29th. We'll make decisions each day as to whether we're going to proceed or not. Those decisions are a long list of criteria that during the day can change. [...] Each day there will be one window. It will only exist for a matter of tens of seconds, and so you have to be at exactly the right place, exactly the right time, and all criteria have to line up exactly right. Okay, so this is a very, you know, precise - unlike a tactical activity where any place at sea and we get a target and we're tracking it and as long as it's within range, we can - this is more like a much more precise launch than you would normally tactically have. Okay? So we'll work our way through that all the way through the day. [...]

Three ships. The first ship is Erie and it has two missiles. The reason it has two missiles is there's - only going to fire one, but it gives it two opportunities so that if the ship itself has a problem or the missile in the tube has a problem, we've got an alternative. So again, that's another criteria during the day, is do I have a good missile, do I have a good ship alignment, et cetera. The box is very small, so probably if Erie goes red in the last few minutes, Decatur will be close and it will be shadowing, but there's going to be a period when it just can't get into the box quick enough. So we're only looking for one opportunity per day, one shot. The third ship is there to give us more of a - let's call it a stereo-type picture of what's going on from a standpoint of tracking. Okay? It does not have missiles. That's Russell. [...]

We're looking for a day window because it allows us to align all of our sensors. And we're looking from what we would call several different ends or phenomenologies, so visual, infrared, radar, anything that we can get to see this thing, but for the most part we're looking to be in the daylight to do this best - okay? - for all of those reasons. So that means it's going to be nighttime on the East Coast. Okay? And the windows over that span of days will pretty much traverse the whole night, so I can't really tell you, you know, exactly what time, but what I will tell you is that when we attempt to take the shot - and I'll leave it at not when we take the shot - when we attempt to take the shot, we will tell you within an hour afterwards what happened on that shot. Attempted it, nothing happened. Attempted it, it flew away and missed. Attempted it, it flew away and we think it hit it, with reasonable confidence, high confidence.

That's probably as much as we're going to know. We'll have a sense that we hit based on the reporting. That information probably takes about an hour to get back and get some confirmation from at least a couple of different sensors so we don't have a single anomaly and try to trace that and then we have you off chasing that information. But we're going to try - within an hour, we'll get a press release out that will say we've attempted and here's what that attempt netted us to the best of our knowledge. And then the intent is, as early as you're willing to get up the next morning, I'll do an availability and give you as much as we have, which should get us at least a few hours' worth of information to correlate sensors, pull data in from around the globe, and then provide you with whatever I can provide you at that point."

In other news the SOLAR observatory installed on the ISS' latest addition Columbus has already delivered the first data. A lot more visuals of the Feb. 19 U.S. bolide have become available, mainly video clips but also stories in many places. So far there is no evidence for a meteorite having been dropped. More mysterious is a case in Bali, Indonesia, in early January, where a crater may have formed - but details are sketchy. "About the meteorite fall in Bali, we still have no confirmation regarding the research of the stone," Avivah Yamani of the Indonesian Blog tells this one: "The stone is in geologist hand to be proved as meteorite or not. But according to astronomer from Indonesian Institute of Aeronautics and Space and also from Bosscha Observatory several days after the fall, it is indeed a meteorite fall and the crater in the rice field had caused by the fall."

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