Shooting Down USA 193 – My Best Guess [UPDATED]

| February 16, 2008

[02/19/08 – 0944 PST — Henderson here – Looks like they are going to take the shot early Thursday AM GMT, I am on the road at the moment but if I have time I will post a follow up with the new target solution in graphic glory, as well as a run down on who the players and equipment are likely to be.]

[Update 02/19/08 – 0838 PST]Updated plot graphics can be found here

There has been a lot of news that a poor broken US intelligence satellite is going to be a practice target for a missile defense test (press write up can be found here)

From a personal standpoint I am very upset about this. The satellite in question is referred to in public as USA 193. It is a National Reconnaissance Office bird that was first launched in December of 2006 from Vandenberg AFB in California into a polar orbit. Right from the start it had problems, and there is no unclassified explanation of what happened.

We do know that it was an expensive failure. These kinds of platforms tend to cost hundreds of millions of dollars including the cost of the launch vehicle. Prime contractor Lockheed (along with Raytheon most likely) are going to have to reimburse the government for most of the cost of this expensive dud. In addition I am fairly certain the intelligence community needed this asset in place to replace a bird that has probably come up to the end of its life time.

That aside, I was curious about how the shoot down would work. Word from the Pentagon was that a US Navy Aegis cruiser would be taking the shot using a juiced up AM-3 missile. This same missile has been very successful in tests shooting down ballistic missiles. Initial reports were that they intended to “take the shot” from somewhere near the coast of Alaska.

In addition NASA wanted to get the shuttle on the ground by Wednesday to open the window for the shoot down, and ensure the shuttle was not still in space when this test took place.

Lastly I would assume that this test is going to be the kind of thing that the DoD and its contractors for missile defense want a lot of data on. That means ideally they would take the shot after Wednesday the 20th, when the satellite is near the west coast of the US, but not over it. As a bonus if you could make it so the target was illuminated by sun while the ground was dark or in twilight so that the equipment they will use to film and photograph the impact will have maximum contrast.

Plugging all of that into the orbital calculators gives us something like this:

USA 193 Paths.gif

Which is only good if you are a space junkie like me. But being handy with maps (as some of you may recall from the San Diego Fires), I thought we could make a much nicer view:

USA 193 Shot2.png

Please note this represents my “best guess” on when they would do it. This could be very far from correct, but I would think it is the confluence of a lot of “wants” and represents at least one optimum for the shot.

The green blob off Alaska is where they will likely park the Aegis cruiser, the yellow arc represents the orbital track USA 193 will be on as the sun is setting on the 21st on the west coast. Impact in the red circle would ensure that it happened away from the US mainland, but close enough to be captured by ground based instruments that will be very valuable in judging how well the SM-3 and the Aegis targeting system worked.

Orbital track for USA 193 Thursday here: http://www.calsky.com/csrender.cgi?&object=Satellite&number=3&sat=29651&tracker=

Special thanks to Milcom Monitoring Post for very nice orbital data and background information.

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Category: Maps, Military, Space, Visualizations

About the Author ()

Bruce Henderson is a former Marine who focuses custom data mining and visualization technologies on the economy and other disasters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Superglide says:

    Bruce, an excellent post! Very informative, loads of great detail, short and concise !

    I’ll echo your concerns about this dud satellite, the enormous cost to the American taxpayer, an odd means of getting it out of space, and if nothing else, the news about Raytheon Missile Systems recently winning a one billion dollar contract.

    FMS to Japan for 27 of the 102 missiles ? Hmmm, really weird Sierra there. Why build 102 missiles, and suddenly have 27 left over for DSAA to sell to Japan ?

    Will DOD appropriately include FMF/FMS administrative and accessorial charges based on the full standard price or procurement cost ? That’s big bucks; wonder where that cash will go ?

  2. Klug says:

    Are Superglide’s reasons the reasons that you’re upset, Bruce? You don’t elaborate much.

  3. Bruce Henderson says:

    Lordy!! I am not upset in the least. Superglide and I exchange information on another site as well, and we are somewhat online “colleagues” in a fashion.

    The original estimates for the shoot down were wrong, and were based on my speculation from early news reports that the shooter would position off the coast of Alaska and be a San Diego based vessel. Also there are some instruments that they like to use to monitor missile intercept tests that are on or near the US west coast, so an eastern pacific shot made a lot of sense.

    Not upset at all folks, just dedicated to trying to get it right.