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Military Tracks Falling Chinese Spy Satellite Two-Ton Craft Expected To Crash As Early As March

A two-ton Chinese spy satellite is slowly falling from orbit and is expected to smash into the Earth early next year, Air Force experts said Tuesday.

The satellite, now in an orbit ranging up to 600 miles, is descending by about three miles a day and could start a final fiery fall as early as March, some experts say.

Maj. Don Planalp, spokesman for the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., said Tuesday it was too early to predict where the satellite might land. The craft is in an orbit that passes over the Earth’s major populated areas, including North America, Europe, Australia, South America and Asia.

Because most of the planet is ocean, however, the falling satellite is most likely to hit the sea.

Aviation Week and Space Technology, an industry magazine, identified the craft as a Chinese FSW-1, a type of spy satellite that weighs 4,500 pounds and is the size of a small car. It was launched Oct. 8, 1993 for what was to be a short reconnaissance mission.

Normally, such satellites are brought back in a controlled, parachute landing. But Aviation Week said that the craft malfunctioned when Chinese engineers commanded it to return to Earth and the satellite has been drifting out of control for more than two years.