A Soviet nuclear-powered spy satellite is in apparent trouble and may crash somewhere on Earth by the end of the month with attendant radiation dangers, US government officials said Wednesday.
The officials identified the satellite as a nuclear-powered, radar surveillance unit of the Cosmos series, similar to the 6,000-pound Cosmos 954, which disintegrated over a sparsely inhabited region of Northern Canada in 1978, causing considerable alarm at the time.
The Cosmos number of the newly imperiled Soviet satellite was not available immediately. There have been more than 1,000 Cosmos launches.
Another Soviet satellite, Cosmos 1365, launched in May of last year, serves as a nuclear-powered ocean survey radar. Intelligence analysts said Cosmos 1365 was put into an orbit that took it over the South Atlantic and was used to supply Argentina with intelligence on British ship movements during the Falklands War.
The government sources, who did not wish to be identified, said the Soviets in 1977 failed to boost the failing Cosmos 954 into a higher orbit where it could remain for centuries and not endanger Earth.
The same failure is apparently causing the latest potential crisis. If the Soviets lose control of the nuclear-powered satellite it could crash anywhere. Certain Soviet space vehicles are said to carry 100 pounds of uranium to power a thermoelectric generator for operation of the radar.