The US Navy claims to have scored a hit on an ailing spy satellite, and brought it down.
Last week the Pentagon announced that the US Navy was to fire on the satellite. The Pentagon claimed that the ailing satellite needed to be brought down before it re-entered earth's atmosphere as it contained a hazardous chemical - hydrazine - a compound derived from ammonia, used in rocket fuel.
According to a US DoD press release, at about 10.26pm EST yesterday the USS Lake Erie (CG-70), fired a single modified tactical Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) hitting the satellite approximately 247 kilometres (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 US DoD claimed a hit on the satellite's fuel tank. However, it being a spy satellite, the US is obviously anxious to recover any bits and pieces that don't get burnt up in the earth's atmosphere. The Press Association reported that the US will send "hazardous materials" teams, codenamed 'Burnt Frost', to recover any pieces that fall to earth.
Russia has questioned the US explanation for bringing down the satellite, claiming it was a thinly disguised arms test, reports ZDNet.co.uk sister site CNet News.com.
Me, I reckon it's all of the above, apart from the rocket fuel explanation. Consider the size of the earth vs. the size of a satellite - what's the likelihood a) that much of the satellite would survive entering the earth's atmosphere if the DoD just left it, and b) even if some of it did survive, that it would hit an inhabited part of the world?
Defence people are always paranoid their gadgets may fall into the hands of the 'enemy', while shooting down their own satellite gives the US DoD an excuse to develop the technology needed to shoot down satellites.
How to test whether that technology works? Why, by shooting down their own satellite they can test the technology, while not provoking the international incident that would occur if they shot down someone else's spy satellite, say China's, or Russia's. The US DoD now has a plethora of data about shooting down spy satellites, and has also handily demonstrated to any potential 'enemy' that it has the capability to shoot down objects orbitting the earth.
Everyone's a winner, apart from the American taxpayer. The US DoD spent $30m on that one missile alone, according to some reports - it would be interesting to know what the total bill will be. I'd imagine spy satellites don't come cheap.