The US military is developing contingency plans to deal with the possibility that a large spy satellite expected to fall to Earth in late February or early March could hit North America.
Air Force General Gene Renuart, who heads US Northern Command, said on Tuesday that the size of the satellite suggests that some number of pieces will not burn up as the orbiting vehicle re-enters the Earth's atmosphere and will hit the ground.
"We're aware that this satellite is out there," Renuart said. "We're aware it is a fairly substantial size. And we know there is at least some percentage that it could land on ground as opposed to in the water."
A US official confirmed that the spy satellite is designated by the military as US 193. It was launched in December 2006 but almost immediately lost power and cannot be controlled. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor but the satellite's central computer failed shortly after launch. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret.
Renuart added that, "As it looks like it might re-enter into the North American area," then the US military along with the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will either have to deal with the impact or assist Canadian or Mexican authorities.
Military agencies, he said, are doing an analysis to determine which pieces most likely would survive re-entry. But he cautioned that officials won't have much detail on where or when it will crash until it begins to move through the atmosphere and break up.
Renuart added that there does not as yet appear to be much concern about sensitive technologies on the satellite falling into enemy hands.
"I'm not aware that we have a security issue," he said. "It's really just a big thing falling on the ground that we want to make sure we're prepared for."
The satellite includes some small engines that contain a toxic chemical called hydrazine, but Renuart said they are not large booster engines with substantial amounts of fuel.
Source: China DailyAgencies