CTV News (Canada)
RCMP says 25% risk U.S. satellite will hit Canada
Updated Wed. Feb. 20 2008 10:10 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
RCMP officials believe there is a 25 per cent chance an out-of-control satellite will hit Canada and release toxic rocket fuel, unless the U.S. military can shoot it down, CTV News has learned.
"Currently, there is a 25 per cent chance the satellite will impact on Canadians soil," says an internal RCMP memo. "If it does hit Canadian soil, the debris field 'could' be up to 600 miles radius. If it does not hit Canadian soil, we still may receive some debris."
The bus-sized satellite -- known as US 193 -- became uncontrollable soon after its December 2006 launch, when its central computer failed and it lost power. It's estimated to be carrying up to 450 kilograms of hazardous fuel called hydrazine, encased in a titanium tank.
"The tank is likely to survive the entry and break up upon impact, releasing the toxic hydrazine," the memo warns.
The document also suggests the satellite would "make an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere on or about March 6, 2008," but warned it was still too difficult to determine where exactly it might hit.
"We will get only a rough satellite entry point. The impact area can only be determined approximately two hours prior to impact," says the document.
A pentagon official told CNN that a U.S. navy ship in the Pacific is taking aim at the satellite as it passes by 240 kilometres above the Earth.
But over the next 10 days at 10:30 p.m. ET, the USS Lake Erie will only have a 10-second window to fire at the satellite with its two SM-3 missiles, destroying the satellite with pure kinetic force rather than explosive power.
The pentagon said it was doubtful the cruiser would be able to fire Wednesday night, because of turbulent waters.
"We don't anticipate the weather being good enough today," said the officer.
However, he added that conditions could improve enough in the hours ahead to permit it to go forward.
A final decision on whether to proceed will be made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
According to the RCMP document, U.S. officials notified the Canadian government on Feb. 14 that it had authorized the Pentagon to shoot down the satellite.
The U.S. government has also said that, if necessary, it will work with Canada for "consequence management and payload recovery operations."
Last year, China conducted an anti-satellite test by shooting one of its old weather satellites still in orbit. That left a lot of debris, which could continue to orbit earth for years to come.
At the time, the U.S. condemned the Chinese action.
With files from The Associated Press