Crippled spy satellite: Has its final countdown begun?

By Eve Savory, CBCNews.ca

If the international group of satellite hobbyists that hangs out on the SeeSat List are right, USA 193 may meet its end Wednesday night - just 10 minutes or so before it crosses Canada's west coast.

The dead satellite is spinning ever closer to the earth and should impact in the first half of March unless the U.S. military can blow it apart first.

Ted Molczan, the respected amateur who does his satellite observing from his Toronto balcony, posted a
NOTAM - or Notice to Airmen - on the list. Such a notice is a standard warning to pilots to stay away from a certain area. In this case the notice doesn’t just cover a huge area near Hawaii, but also extends up into space.

The NOTAM lasts for three hours and Molczan
calculated the attempt will be made at 3:30 UTC (Universal Coordinated Time), or 10:30 p.m. EST Wednesday.

A second NOTAM has now been posted for the same period the following day, and John Lockyer of the UK notes this could continue for five days if needed. Marco Langbroek in Holland has posted an image of the area and the satellite's orbit on his blog

The listers are calculating and posting what will happen to the pieces should missile meet
satellite. Bob Christy writes that "the two objects will come together with a closing speed near that of orbital velocity," spreading a debris cloud evenly in all directions.

He believes the spot chosen for interception is a good one, since "the next three circuits of the Earth pass over very little land." On his
own site, he writes: "The major land masses are Canada and Australia, both sparsely populated," which some of us would quarrel with.

Walter Ridgewell of Medicine Hat will be out that night. He writes that he was planning to take some photos of the lunar eclipse and, "with luck perhaps I can see and record/report something."

If you are interested in doing some of your own sat-spotting, follow the directions at Observing USA 193 - tips for beginners. But be careful. If the group is anything to go by, this hobby may become addictive.