A missile launched from a Navy ship struck a failed U.S. spy satellite passing over the Pacific Ocean:
A network of land-, air-, sea- and spaced-based sensors confirms that the U.S. military intercepted a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite which was in its final orbits before entering the earth's atmosphere, defense officials announced in a press release.
At approximately 10:26 p.m. EST today, a U.S. Navy AEGIS warship, the USS Lake Erie (CG-70), fired a single modified tactical Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) hitting the satellite approximately 247 kilometers (133 nautical miles) over the Pacific Ocean as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph. USS Decatur (DDG-73) and USS Russell (DDG-59) were also part of the task force.
The objective was to rupture the fuel tank to dissipate the approximately 1,000 pounds (453 kg) of hydrazine, a hazardous fuel which could pose a danger to people on earth, before it entered into earth's atmosphere. Confirmation that the fuel tank has been fragmented should be available within 24 hours.
Due to the relatively low altitude of the satellite at the time of the engagement, debris will begin to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere immediately. Nearly all of the debris will burn up on reentry within 24-48 hours and the remaining debris should re-enter within 40 days.
The Associated Press published the following video report about the intercept:
China expressed phony concern about the successful strike on the disabled satellite:
Within hours of the reported success, China said it was on the alert for possible harmful fallout from the shootdown and urged Washington to promptly release data on the action.China is still smarting from all the international criticism about its secret and ill-advised attack on an aging weather satellite last year. The worrisome debris cloud created by the Chinese antisatellite missile test continues to threaten more than 800 operating satellites and will do so for up to 100 years.
“China is continuously following closely the possible harm caused by the U.S. action to outer space security and relevant countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a news conference in Beijing. “China requests the U.S. to fulfill its international obligations in real earnest and provide to the international community necessary information and relevant data in a timely and prompt way so that relevant countries can take precautions.”
The Wall Street Journal contrasts the U.S. operation , calling it "A Shot in the Light:"
Contrast this operation with what happened a year ago January, when Beijing surprised the world by shooting down one of its weather satellites in a test of its antisatellite capabilities. Not only was the test unannounced, but it took China days to concede that it had happened. Because the satellite was destroyed at an altitude of approximately 850 kilometers, it left countless hazardous particles drifting in orbit that could harm future space flights.This isn't the first time that the U.S. has destroyed a satellite. In 1985, a U.S. F-15 fighter jet fired a Vought ASM-135 ASAT missile which intercepted the Solwind P78-1, an aging gamma ray research satellite. According to CNN, the fact that we have had such a capability for over 20 years is evidence that the U.S. acted Wednesday strictly to guard against the prospect of a potential disaster.
The Chinese and Russian complaints are tied to broader political gamesmanship over the "militarization of space" and efforts to get Washington to sign an international treaty restricting space defenses. China appears to have an antisatellite missile program of its own, while Moscow opposes U.S. efforts to place missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe.
But the technology on display here is important in part because of Chinese and Russian actions. The U.S. has missile-defense systems in place in Japan, for example, to counter North Korea -- a dictatorship that wouldn't exist without Beijing's support. Russia and China are friendly with , which is rapidly developing long-range missile capabilities. If anything, the U.S. needs to spend more on such technology.
Meanwhile, Washington has gone out of its way both to alert other countries of this operation and to avoid the kind of dangers posed by Beijing's last launch. The satellite will be hit at a low altitude to ensure that most of the debris re-enters either to burn up during descent or to land in the ocean. The Pentagon hosted a press conference last week to discuss the diplomatic and technological aspects of the operation. A military spokesman said this week that a press statement will be issued "within an hour" of the missile launch.