New York Times on the Web Forums Science
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?
(7905 previous messages)
- 07:00am Aug 19, 2001 EST (#7906
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
The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs has confirmed that the
Pentagon's data is incorrect, but says it cannot do anything about
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.
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
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
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 GlobalSecurity.org, a
Washington-based policy group. He says the Pentagon has grown
arrogant, believing "we won the cold war, we can do whatever we
19:00 08 August 01
- 07:06am Aug 19, 2001 EST (#7907
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
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
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
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."
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
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
- 10:20am Aug 19, 2001 EST (#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
New York Times on the Web Forums Science
Enter your response, then click the POST MY MESSAGE
See the quick-edit
help for more information.