18 February 2008

A bus full of secrets and hydrazine.

Missile Defense Future May Turn on Success of Mission to Destroy Satellite

I know this satellite thats coming down on our heads has been blogged about a lot but thats because it so darn interesting. I mean its the size of a bus, its full of secret spy stuff and deadly gas, and it might fall on our heads unless the military can blast it out of the sky. Life rarely sounds this much like a movie.

Often compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet, the shooting down of ballistic missiles with an interceptor rocket is difficult, as an adversary’s warheads would be launched unexpectedly on relatively short arcs — and most likely more than one at a time.

So it should be easier for the Standard Missile 3, a Navy weapon launched from an Aegis cruiser in the northern Pacific, to find and strike a satellite almost the size of a school bus making orbits almost as regular as bus routes around the globe, 16 times a day.

Even if they manage to hit this one, its not exactly something they can point to and say "Look we can do it, we need 80 gazillion dollars to make us safe from the terrorists with ballistic missiles!" But watch, they'll try. And they probably will get the money. We don't seem to be able to say no to the military and its demands for money.

But what really interests me in all this is the fuel, hydrazine, that if it were to break only upon landing and not before, would be really bad. Hydrazine is N2H4 and its corrosive and noxious as a liquid. If it crashed much of it would vaporize and that would lead to a cloud of hydrazine gas. CNN reports Gen. James Cartwright saying that the cloud would be the size of two football fields.

So shooting it down is probably a good idea. I wonder if we'll be able to see an explosion? The hydrazine is on there as fuel and while the reaction isn't an oxidation reaction its still highly exothermic. Its also taking place while in orbit and outside of the atmosphere so that probably would effect any exothermic reactions that would take place. I don't know enough about explosions to speculate more than that. I hope we get to hear more about the physics of it.

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