See also   Satellite Spotters Glimpse Secrets and Tell Them

New York Times 05.02.2008


On December  14 2006  a Delta II launcher lifted off from Vandenburg Air Force base carrying the highly classified satellite USA193 (  NROL 21 ) 

Within hours of lift off  there were indications  that there had been a possible failure early in the launch campaign.

This was later to be confirmed by my images (below) when in September 2007 I managed to capture the satellite in a pass over the UK. It was apparent that the spacecraft had not deployed its  solar panels. This suggested that failure took place  very early on     ( Later confirmed in a report in early 2008 which indicated that failure may well have been within seconds of reaching orbit! )             I estimated the overall size of the spacecraft to be no more than 4 to 5 metres.....about the size of a large car.

There followed much discussion within the satellite observer community. Hot topic was the power source of the failed satellite and the fact that decay was likely to take place in mid 2008.      

It should be remembered that , at this point  , amateur observers had been watching USA 193 since its launch and we had been monitoring its progress. Whilst a brief official statement issued in the spring of 2007 indicated communications problems there was no mention of decay / re-entry.

By December 2007 the orbit of USA 193 had reduced to about 300km and I got a second imaging opportunity on the evening of the 23rd. [ See Below ]

This time a little more detail could be observed , but again no solar panels.The main body of the craft could be seen together with what looked like a radar/imaging array. At this juncture , having published my images , I commented that I seriously doubted that the US government would allow this satellite to re-enter , with the possibility that advanced , classified technology could fall into  the hands of a hostile intelligence agency.

I predicted that USA 193 would be destroyed , in orbit rather than allow it to decay.  My comments were met with some derision within academic circles. The destruction of a Chinese weather satellite a year earlier had prompted global condemnation. The destruction of  FY 1C  , although in a much higher orbit , had resulted in a cloud of debris thought to contain tens of thousands of potentially dangerous particles. The mere suggestion that the USA would attempt a similar demonstration was apparently absurd!

Experts within the satellite observer community were now estimating decay would take place towards the end of March 2008

It is now known that following our observations and public discussion concerning the possible shootdown of 193  , in late December  2007 , the Pentagon formulated a plan to deal with the situation , although , it would be  more than a month before those plans were revealed.




Over the next few weeks we continued to observe the spacecraft as the orbit lowered.The satellite was of course out of control. Across the USA and Europe visual sightings were collected which allowed us to calculate and adjust orbital predictions .A number of observers were able to take time lapse images of the satellite crossing the night sky. No-one noticed any sign of tumbling or eratic behaviour .

(   Later statements by the US DoD claimed the satellite was tumbling in an unpredictable manner ) 

In early February 2008 the Pentagon showed its hand. It released a number of statements admitting that USA 193 had failed , that it was out of control and heading back to Earth. There were grave concerns over the unused hydrazine fuel , which we were told was in a frozen state. 193 had become a deadly toxic ice cube  and could crash down , causing  widespead damage over the area of a football field , releasing highly toxic fumes !

At this point the media frenzy started.There were many alarmist reports about the possibility that remains of the  spacecraft  might crash down on populated areas.

This prompted The Pentagon to play its ace card.......To save the world from environmental disaster 193 would be shot down The rest , as they say , is history ! 

A quick internet search will throw up hundreds of articles about the "shootdown " , the reasons why and the resultant debris that was released.  In terms of technical achievement there is no doubt the exercise was a remarkable success. But cynical though it may sound , my own opinion is that USA 193 was destroyed for just two reasons . To ensure that none of the advanced technology , used in its construction , fell into the wrong hands...... and  as a show of force . A demonstration to the rest of the world that the US could remove a satellite from orbit ...........and that the Missile Defense  System is alive and well.        

Make a Free Website with Yola.