US spy satellite to fall to Earth

Officials are unable to say where the unidentified spacecraft might hit the ground.

    Skylab fell from orbit in 1979 but its debris landed harmlessly in the Indian Ocean and Australia [AP]
    "Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause."

    Photo reconnaisance

    Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow with the National Security Archive, said that the spacecraft was likely to be a photo reconnaisance satellite used to gather visual information from space about governments and groups, such as construction at suspected nuclear sites or training camps.

    The satellites also can be used to survey damage from hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters.

    The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a Nasa spacecraft occured when Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station, fell from orbit in 1979.

    Its debris dropped harmlessly into the Indian Ocean and across a remote section of western Australia.

    In 2000, Nasa engineers successfully directed a safe de-orbit of the 17-ton Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, using rockets aboard the satellite to bring it down in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.

    Protecting secrets

    John Pike, director of the defence research group GlobalSecurity.org, told the Associated Press news agency that spy satellites are typically disposed of through a controlled re-entry into the ocean so that no one else can access the spacecraft, he said.

    Pike estimated that the spacecraft weighed about 9072kg and is the size of a small bus.

    He said the satellite would create significantly less debris than the Columbia space shuttle crash in 2003. 

    Pike suggested that it was unlikely that authorities would decide to shoot the satellite down with a missile as it would create debris that could hit the ground.

    SOURCE: Agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    What draws Kenyan women to join al-Shabab and what challenges are they facing when they return to their communities?