US aims to shoot down rogue satellite

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The US today announced it is planning to shoot down the out of control spy satellite expected to hit the Earth early next month.

Officials said that the preferred option will be to fire a missile from a US Navy cruiser, and blast the satellite before it enters Earth's atmosphere.

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 US and other countries.

The broken satellite is in a deteriorating orbit and is expected to hit Earth during the first week of March. Officials said the Navy would probably shoot it down before then using a special missile modified for the task.

Other details about the missile and the targeting were not available. But the decision involves several US agencies, including the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Defence and the State Department.

A key concern over China's anti-satellite test was the debris created by the satellite's destruction - and that will also be a focus now.

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 hit 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 would scatter debris - some of it potentially hazardous - over several hundred miles.

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 comes into contact with it.