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Malfunctioning Satellite Points of Information
February 19, 2008

  • A U.S. satellite is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere between the end of February and early March.


  • Although space objects fall to Earth often, the concern with this satellite is that part of the satellite mass could survive reentry; including a fuel cell with 1,000 pounds of propellant fuel (hydrazine), a hazardous material.


  • Only a small percentage of objects ever re-enter over land since water comprises 75 percent of the Earth’s surface. Only about 25 percent of the Earth’s landmass is actually inhabited. Although the chance of an impact on land or in a populated area are small, the potential consequences are concerning enough to consider mitigating actions.


  • The President directed the Department of Defense to launch a missile to intercept the satellite before it enters the earth’s atmosphere in order to mitigate the possible consequences of its impact. Based upon modeling conducted the federal government has high confidence the engagement will be successful.


  • In order to engage the satellite the existing U.S. defensive system had to be modified. The timing, location, and geometry of the intercept will be chosen to maximize the probability of destroying the hydrazine tank. The operation will involve fragmenting the fuel tank, which will cause the hydrazine to dissipate prior to entering the atmosphere or during its descent. If the operation to engage the satellite is successful, the hydrazine will no longer pose a risk to humans.


  • The U.S. government has been and continues to track and monitor this satellite. Various government agencies are planning for the reentry of the satellite and will work together to explore options to mitigate the danger to humans.


  • Guidance has been developed and is being shared with state and local responders to ensure that all levels of government will be prepared should the satellite impact the United States.


  • Contact with hydrazine is hazardous and direct contact with skin or eyes, ingestion or inhalation could result in immediate danger. Any debris should be considered potentially hazardous and should not be touched, handled or removed.


  • In the unlikely event satellite pieces land in a populated area, people are strongly advised to avoid the impact area until trained hazardous materials teams are able to properly respond. Persons who observe or encounter falling debris should notify the Oklahoma Emergency Operations Center at 800-800-2481 and stay away from it.