Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2008

Navy missile hits wayward spy satellite on 1st attempt

February 21, 2008


— A missile launched from a Navy cruiser soared 130 miles above the Pacific and smashed a dying and potentially deadly U.S. spy satellite Wednesday, the Pentagon said. Two defense officials said it apparently achieved the main aim of destroying an onboard tank of toxic fuel.

Officials had expressed cautious optimism that the missile would hit the satellite, which was the size of a school bus. But they were less certain of hitting the smaller, more worrisome fuel tank, whose contents posed what Bush administration officials deemed a potential health hazard to humans if it landed intact.

In a statement announcing that the attack on the satellite, the Pentagon said, "Confirmation that the fuel tank has been fragmented should be available within 24 hours." It made no mention of early indications, but two defense officials close to the situation said later that it appeared the fuel tank was hit. One said observers saw what appeared to be an explosion, indicating that the tank was hit.

Because the satellite was orbiting at a relatively low altitude at the time it was hit by the missile, debris will begin to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere immediately, the Pentagon statement said.

"Nearly all of the debris will burn up on re-entry within 24-48 hours and the remaining debris should re-enter within 40 days," it said.

The USS Lake Erie, armed with an SM-3 missile designed to knock down incoming missiles - not orbiting satellites - launched the attack at 9:26 p.m. CST, according to the Pentagon. It hit the satellite about three minutes later as the spacecraft traveled in polar orbit at more than 17,000 mph.

The Lake Erie and two other Navy warships, as well as the SM-3 missile and other components, were modified in a hurry-up project headed by the Navy in January. The missile alone cost nearly $10 million, and officials estimated that the total cost of the project was at least $30 million.

The launch of the Navy missile amounted to an unprecedented use of components of the Pentagon's missile defense system, designed to shoot down hostile ballistic missiles in flight - not kill satellites.

The operation was so extraordinary, with such intense international publicity and political ramifications, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates - not a military commander - made the decision to pull the trigger.

Gates had arrived in Hawaii a few hours before the missile was launched. He was there to begin a round-the-world trip, not to monitor the missile operation. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, told reporters traveling with Gates that the defense chief gave the go-ahead at 12:40 p.m. CST while en route from Washington.

Morrell said Gates had a conference call during the flight with Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of Strategic Command, and Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They told him that "the conditions were ripe for an attempt, and that is when the secretary gave the go-ahead to take the shot, and wished them good luck," Morrell said.

At 9:35 p.m. CST, Gates spoke to both generals again and "was informed that the mission was a success, that the missile had intercepted the decaying satellite, and the secretary was obviously very pleased to learn that," Morrell said.

The government organized hazardous materials teams, under the code name "Burnt Frost," to be flown to the site of any dangerous or otherwise sensitive debris that might land in the U.S. or elsewhere.

President Bush gave his approval last week to attempt the satellite shootdown on grounds that it was worth trying to destroy the toxic fuel on board the satellite before it could land in a populated area.

Left alone, the satellite would have been expected to hit Earth during the first week of March. About half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft would have been expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and would have scattered debris over several hundred miles.


Christine Pennewell Davis 10 years, 3 months ago

To me this is big news yet we have to dig to find it. I really hope that is true that they did get the tank, I heard that if you where in the right place you had a good chance of seeing the debris enter our atmo. Now that would have been really something to see next to the eclipse last night.

Christine Pennewell Davis 10 years, 3 months ago

I know they say we are all safe but I just have to be worried are they really sure it will all burn up?

moderate1 10 years, 3 months ago

30 million was if they used all three missles but the first one worked.

Flap Doodle 10 years, 3 months ago

Chuck Norris was sitting on the nose-cone of the missile.

jumpin_catfish 10 years, 3 months ago

Watching the ecilpse nice. Watching stuff blowing up in the upper atmosphere priceless. We still the big dog!

notajayhawk 10 years, 3 months ago


Great video, thanks!

smitty (Anonymous) says:

"Sputnix and the cold war that put USSR in economic crisis may well be a projection for the US considering it cost 30 million to accomplish this feat compared to our very weak economy and continued financial support of warring. But then a tax paying commoner who just doen't get it."

Compared to the cost of a single lawsuit if this thing had come down over land? (Not to mention that pesky little detail of how many people might have died from Hydrazine burns - very nasty stuff.) Plus, if I remember correctly, the Ticonderoga class were one of the most cost-effective platforms the Navy ever built, with the later units coming in at somewhere around half what the earlier ones cost.

formerfarmer 10 years, 3 months ago

Come on. Do you really think an unprotected tank of high power rocket fuel is going to come through re-entry(at how many thousand degrees??) intact. I think the real reason is a nuclear device that was powering it. I don't remember them finding any fuel cells from the shuttle when it broke up, and it was designed for re-entry.

riverdrifter 10 years, 3 months ago

Er, if I can boink prairie dogs at ~350 meters for 30 cents a pop loading my own (eh, don't worry folks, it's on one of the biggest, healthiest and less-hunted dogtowns in Kansas) then maybe Passion's 9:59 has merit: might be a bargain. Somebody else can jack with the math. Snap: that was the ghost of Major Kong ridin' the nose. See.

TheYetiSpeaks 10 years, 3 months ago

Who cares how much it costs? It's better than 500 tons of U.S. metal filled to the brim with rocket fuel crashing into, say, China.

Sigmund 10 years, 3 months ago

Don't forget that 130 miles in international waters is 10 miles beyond the three-point-line!

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