Now that the USS Lake Erie managed to hit the crippled NRO satellite with a specially modified missile, the next step is to watch it all come down -- and officials should know a lot more by 3 am Eastern time Thursday morning.
That's because officials think the first three orbits after the shootdown will be critical to determining how much debris there is and what happens next. They say well over 50% of the debris will probably come down during those first three passes.
Although the timing will change -- after all, what used to be a satellite is now a fast-moving cloud of tumbling chunks -- the satellite and its remnants take about 90 minutes to circle the globe. So every 90 minutes, trackers will take a look at what goes by, and hope to calculate how much debris was actually generated by the shot, as well as how quickly it's coming down through the atmosphere and how much -- if any -- might reach the earth's surface.
The Aegis cruiser took its shot at 10:26 pm Eastern time, so three passes should take until around 3 am to go by.
So if you're waiting up to see what happens, odds are you won't know much until the wee hours, and maybe much later; the Pentagon isn't expecting to talk to reporters about what they know until 7 am Thursday.