Gigantic $1 Billion Radar Chugs Through Elliott Bay at Nine MPH (But It Isn't Leaving Yet)

Theoretically, if Felix Hernandez could pitch a baseball toward Seattle from 2,500 miles away, the giant James Bond-looking platform floating in Elliott Bay could detect it as it approached the U.S.

The platform, a Sea-Based X-Band Radar, is a $900-million addition to the Missile Defense Agency designed to track incoming ballistic missiles. About 45,000 modules form a radar beam that can relay information to help launch interceptor missiles from Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

It arrived in May, but is moving from its spot in Elliott Bay this week to make room for a Shell oil platform.

The SBX, as it's known, which weighs more than 50,000 tons, is undergoing maintenance and upgrades to its thrusters, which propel it at a rate of about eight knots (about nine mph). Seattle Weekly wrote it about it back in 2003.

The SBX is turned off while it's in port, according to Rick Lehner, a spokesman with the Missile Defense Agency. The reason it's here is because the water is deeper than 50 feet, he said.

When asked by Seattle Weekly if it's a national security issue that the SBX is temporarily out of commission, Lener said other smaller radars in the Pacific will pick up the slack while it's in port.

If Armageddon breaks out anytime soon, everyone on the platform, which spends most of its time at sea, will be in good shape. It has living quarters, a generator, and a helicopter pad, and it carries 60 days' worth of supplies and fuel.

So far, the SBX, which was built by Boeing, has been used to track a number of objects, Lehner said. In 2008, it helped track a dying satellite with toxic fuel.

"If it had crashed into something on the earth, it could have been a major hazard," Lehner said. "A Navy ship was able to shoot down the satellite with a modified missile."

So enjoy, folks. It's only here 'til August.

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