WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon is planning to shoot down a broken spy satellite expected to hit the Earth in early March, The Associated Press has learned.
U.S. officials said Thursday that the option preferred by the Bush administration will be to fire a missile from a U.S. Navy cruiser, and shoot down the satellite before it enters Earth's atmosphere.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the options will not be publicly discussed until a later Pentagon briefing.
The disabled satellite is expected to hit the Earth the first week of March. Officials said the Navy would likely shoot it down before then, using a special missile modified for the task.
Other details about the missile and the targeting were not immediately available. But the decision involves several U.S. agencies, including the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Defense and the State Department.
Shooting down a satellite is particularly sensitive because of the controversy surrounding China's anti-satellite test last year, when Beijing shot down one of its defunct weather satellites, drawing immediate criticism from the U.S. and other countries.
A key concern at that time was the debris created by Chinese satellite's destruction—and that will also be a focus now, as the U.S. determines exactly when and under what circumstances to shoot down its errant satellite.
The military will have to choose a time and a location that will avoid to the greatest degree any damage to other satellites in the sky. Also, there is the possibility that large pieces could remain, and either stay in orbit where they can collide with other satellites or possibly fall to Earth.
It is not known where the satellite will hit. But officials familiar with the situation say about half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft is expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and will scatter debris—some of it potentially hazardous—over several hundred miles. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The satellite is outfitted with thrusters—small engines used to position it in space. They contain the toxic rocket fuel hydrazine, which can cause harm to anyone who contacts it.