RE: Estimated STS-110 lift-off time for 2002 April 04 UTC

From: Ted Molczan (
Date: Wed Mar 20 2002 - 10:38:12 EST

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    Bill Bard wrote:
    > One could make a case that the reason for the launch 
    > uncertainty is to prevent a hijacked aircraft from flying 
    > into the shuttle right at launch. To accomplish this, the 
    > launch time needs to be known sometime in the future to be 
    > able to know which aircraft to hijack so that it's not flying 
    > for hours waiting for a launch to occur. While hitting a 
    > shuttle on the ground would be a major event, hitting a 
    > shuttle right at launch would be much greater, since 
    > television coverage would be plentiful.
    All that is required to prevent this scenario is to enforce a
    no-fly radius sufficient to prevent any loitering non-military 
    air craft from catching to, or intercepting, a just-launched shuttle.
    I suspect that if one were to do the math, this radius would be
    quite small. Commercial airliners cover about 10 miles per minute.
    how far does the shuttle travel in its first minute of flight?
    clearly, there would be no way to cover that distance to catch 
    up to a shuttle in the first seconds after lift-off.
    A terrorist's only hope would be to loiter somewhere down-range,
    to force a collision. How long after lift-off does it take the
    shuttle to reach an altitude, velocity and acceleration to
    make this scenario impossible? The answer would define the 
    down-range no-fly envelope. My intuition is that the radius
    would be small, no more than a few miles.
    I have complete confidence in the ability of NORAD and the U.S. Air
    Force to enforce such small no-fly zones, i.e. interceptor planes
    in the air at all times.
    As others have mentioned, a terrorist with a missile would be much
    greater cause for concern, but assuming he could get close enough,
    his best bet would be to attack the shuttle during tanking.
    Sadly, as I write this, one of the incompetents at INS could be 
    rubber-stamping the visitor's visa for an Al Qaeda person assigned 
    to take out a shuttle. Perhaps NASA should offer any INS person
    found to have negligently let in a terrorist, a free seat in the 
    flame trench from which to view the next launch.
    Ted Molczan
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