|Tonight (July 27), according to the data provided on the "Heavens |
Above" web site, two Japanese spy satellites - IGS - 1A and IGS - 1B -
will pass overhead between 9 and 11PM, and each will be clearly visible
here in Maine.
For IGS-1B in particular, time is running out. Launched in March 2003,
and orbiting at an altitude of approximately 450 km, this Japanese spy
satellite is starting to show signs that gravity is winning out and
slowly bringing this satellite down.
Identified officially as USSPACECOM Catalog No.: 27699 and
International Designation Code:
2003-009-B, it is heading back to Earth soon, and what exactly the
Japanese government is going to do about it, if anything, is unknown.
For months, veteran amateur satellite observers based in Canada and
Europe in particular have started to attract Tokyo's attention. These
sky-scanning enthusiasts are actively comparing and contrasting the
situation surrounding IGS - 1B with the situation surrounding USA 193,
the satellite which was shot down by the U.S. Navy in 2008.
Fortunately, if the numbers are correct, the fuel loads aboard the two
satellites are vastly different with IGS-1B holding just a small
percentage of the amount in USA 193's fuel tank.
One prediction calls for a possible re-entry by IGS-1B to occur at
approximately this time next year. If and when it occurs, the fate of
the hydrazine fuel load will be anyone's guess, because guessing is
about all that everyone can do save for a few Tokyo government insiders
and Japanese contract personnel who know exactly how much fuel was on
board this satellite at the time it was launched 8 years ago.
The U.S. government undertook its 2008 shootdown was
because it was a prudent public health measure based on the toxicity of
hydrazine, but this stance was criticized from the start, and I must admit that I had a
hard time buying this argument.
But now, because of this precedent set by the US Navy, Tokyo will have
to grapple with the same logic. A decision will have to be made, and
the process surrounding how this decision is made will have to be very
transparent as well.
Launching a strike and shooting down IGS-1B using a Japanese warship
equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System may seem
farfetched, but it is not out of the realm of possibility. Just ask the
crew of the USS Lake Erie.
Timing is everything, and what makes the timeframe for a possible
interception of IGS - 1B even more sensitive is that Japan's MoD is
very much aware of the fact that whatever happens, it will closely
follow next year's "Juniper Cobra" exercise which is expected to
feature the most spectacular display of U.S. and Israeli anti- missile
technology ever seen, including the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area
Defense (THAAD), and, the Israeli Arrow 2 and Iron Dome systems.
Will the fact that a U.S. Navy cruiser engages in a full demonstration
of its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System during "Juniper Cobra"
compel the Japanese MSDF to match this display with a display of its
own and take down IGS - 1B in the process? What if the results of
"Juniper Cobra" are less than satisfactory, will such results bear on
what might take place shortly thereafter in the Pacific?
Again, these questions only apply to the late 2012 projected descent.
On account of the billions of dollars spent thus far, this all about
proving that the interception of inbound missiles in real-time now
enjoys a zero-defect status, and that defensive platforms now exist to
accomplish this task in a rapid and reliable manner. This is a
sensitive topic indeed in Tokyo thanks to North Korea's aggressive
The Japanese people may not be wildly enthusiastic about such
anti-missile exercises, but the flip side is to simply let IGS-1B fall
out of the sky on its own. Based on the argument used for the shootdown
of USA 193, that could have devastating consequences, especially if
IGS-1B suddenly descends upon a heavily populated area.
So the Japanese might start asking themselves what they want to
see happen and why. The Japanese government might want to have its answers
ready soon too concerning how much fuel is on board and what it sees as
a likely outcome.