Science

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U.S. Missile Hits Defunct Spy Satellite

February 21, 2008 10:17 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Pentagon officials caution it could be 24 hours before it is known whether the satellite's toxic hydrazine fuel was destroyed in the strike.

30-Second Summary

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Just before 10:30 p.m. EST Wednesday night, Navy cruiser the Lake Eerie launched a single SM-3 missile from its position off the coast of Hawaii.

According to the Pentagon, the missile intercepted the wayward spy satellite  USA 193 as it orbited the planet at 17,000 miles per hour.

The aim of the operation was to pierce the satellite’s fuel tank and destroy the 1,000 pounds of toxic hydrazine fuel inside. It is not known yet whether the missile succeeded in doing that.

Protecting the public from the dangerous fuel was Washington’s avowed intention. Both Russia and China, however, voiced suspicions that the operation served a military purpose.

According to a Feb. 20 article from Russian state-run news agency Ria Novotsi, there were two probable reasons for the missile strike. The first was to keep the wayward spy satellite’s contents secret; the second was to “to test anti-satellite weapons on the quiet.”

Beijing echoed those suspicions. Communist party newspaper the People’s Daily leveled charges of hypocrisy at Washington, writing that America “has often accused other countries of vigorously developing military space technology, but faced with the Chinese-Russian proposal to restrict space armaments, it runs in fear from what it claimed to love,”

USA Today reports that China and Russia have led international efforts to ban weapons in space and the use of weapons on objects in space.

In that context, the paper concludes, “On one hand, the United States should be wary of calls for disarmament from its two likeliest global antagonists. On the other, avoiding a ruinously expensive space arms race is a worthwhile goal for a nation already fighting two wars abroad and struggling with a growing national debt.”

Headline Links: Missile intercepts satellite

Background: USA 193’s history and satellite suspicions

Reactions: Chinese and Russian suspicions

Opinion: Assessing the operation and its effects

Related Topic: 'Space Junk Hits Earth Often, Not People'

Reference: ‘Inside America’s Satellite-Killing Missile’

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