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    Missile Defense

Russian military leaders have expressed concern about US plans for a national missile defense system. Will defense technology be limited by possibilities for a strategic imbalance? Is this just SDI all over again?

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lunarchick - 07:00am Aug 19, 2001 EST (#7906 of 7908)

US spy satellites in "false" orbits

19:00 08 August 01 Jeff Hecht, Boston

America's spy satellites are not in the orbits the Pentagon says they are, according to a respected space analyst.

The errors will add to concerns over George W. Bush's plans to place weapons in space. If today's satellite orbits cannot be trusted, opponents reason, how will we verify the numbers of future space-based anti-missile lasers and anti-satellite weapons?

The 1975 UN Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space requires nations to maintain a registry of objects they launch, and to provide the UN with copies.

But Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has found several discrepancies in the UN data. "Suspicious mistakes date back as early as the 1970s," he told New Scientist.

Compliant or not?

"The US is not in compliance. The 1989 launch of military satellite 1989-72A was never registered with the UN," McDowell says. And the discrepancies have become worse recently: correct orbits are listed for only two of the 10 classified satellites the US launched in 1999 and 2000, he says.

McDowell says three listed orbits are not those the satellites finally slotted into, while another four are wrong for other reasons, such as listing the orbit of another object launched at the same time. The remaining discrepancy is simply a typographical error.

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs has confirmed that the Pentagon's data is incorrect, but says it cannot do anything about it.

A spokesman for US Space Command, which tracks nearly 9000 orbiting objects from its base deep inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, says the US "is in full compliance with the convention". According to the treaty, each nation can determine "the content of each registry and the conditions under which it is maintained", he says. He offered no comment on the orbital discrepancies.

Space hazards

Unfortunately, the UN registry relies on a treaty that allows long delays in providing data, and does not require nations to give final orbits. "In fact, they mostly provide only the initial orbit," said Petr Lala, research chief for the UN office, which is aware of McDowell's findings.

The UN's outer space convention was intended to identify the owners of all satellites, in case any posed hazards or caused damage. Governments want to know the orbits of other objects so they can be sure no one is trying to intercept their own satellites, says Charles Vick of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington DC.

Although US Space Command says its actions fall within the letter of the treaty, McDowell says: "It's certainly violating the spirit of an international commitment."

Vick suspects that the Pentagon hopes to make it harder to evade surveillance from space by concealing the orbits of its spy satellites - but Russia and China have their own tracking systems, and amateur astronomers post orbits on the web.

"It's silly. These things are among the brightest objects in the sky," says John Pike, director of, a Washington-based policy group. He says the Pentagon has grown arrogant, believing "we won the cold war, we can do whatever we want".

19:00 08 August 01

lunarchick - 07:06am Aug 19, 2001 EST (#7907 of 7908)

High-frequency radar detects runway junk

17:15 13 August 01 Will Knight

A new high-resolution radar system developed by a UK team could be used to rapidly scan airport runways for potentially deadly debris.

The researchers hope it could prevent accidents such as the Concorde crash at Charles de Gaulles airport in France in July 2000, which killed 113 people. A piece of metal on the runway is believed to have ruptured one of the aircraft's tyres during take-off, sending rubber into a fuel tank and causing the plane to burst into flames.

The radar has been developed by researchers at QinetiQ, the commercial offshoot of the UK government's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. A prototype version can detect an object no larger than a Coke can up to 300 metres away. "We hope eventually to get it up to one kilometre," says business development officer Tim Floyd.

One or more radar devices plugged into a central alarm system running special software also developed by QinetiQ could be used to scan a runway a number of times each a minute, says Floyd. Runway inspections are currently conducted manually. They are carried out about every hour at busy airports and take about 15 minutes to complete.

Industry experts believe the system could prove a useful safety tool. "Runway debris is a serious issue for airports," says Chris Yates, aviation safety editor for Jane's Transport. "It could be an exceptionally valuable piece of equipment because manual checking is a labour intensive process."

Soft landing

Floyd says that a dozen countries have expressed interest in the radar. QinetiQ plans to start trials of the system at a major UK airport within three months. A finished product should be available by the end of the year.

The new radar has been adapted from military weapons guidance systems and operates at a higher frequency than most radar systems. This allows it to detect objects at a greater distances in higher resolution.

Floyd says it is rare for runway debris to cause an aircraft accident, but he says that airport operators have become increasingly aware of the risk following the Air France Concorde crash in July 2000.

The disaster prompted British Airways and Air France to ground all Concorde aircraft.

see New Scientist

ledzeppelin - 10:20am Aug 19, 2001 EST (#7908 of 7908)

lunarchick - 05:24am Aug 19, 2001 EST (#7905 of 7907)

Russia is hardly stable as it is, despite having the ex head of the KGB as Mr President? There are the new entrepreneurs who are doing well, but live in Cyprus the Russian Mafia are the only new entrepreneurs whom live in Russia these days. They’re poor and destitute wish for the return of the good old days? Yes communism, they were fed and kept warm and were not terrorised into paying local Mafia bosses protection money to keep a multi storey slum above their heads?

Yes the real Danger comes from creating a new cold war, that will mean nations like Russia have even less to spend on social programmes, that leads to greater internal civil unrest thus destabilising the whole of western and eastern Europe? This in turn gives rise to even more powerful Mafia bosses whom then wish to maximise their income by way of drugs in particular? Designer drugs at that, this then means you have pushers at the nursery gates of even the nice suburbs of the USA, no missile shield will then save your children then! Sorry but it is a sordid world now and with President Bushes help, it is about to become a whole load more sordid?

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