US Has a History of Shooting Down Satellites in Space

March 26th, 2009 - by admin

Space War & MSNBC & American Forces Press Service – 2009-03-26 23:08:04

In test, US intercepts short-range missile: Pentagon
Space War

WASHINGTON (March 18, 2009) — The US military successfully shot down a short-range ballistic missile near Hawaii in a test of its ground-based missile defense system, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
The target missile was “more likely to be classified as a short-range ballistic missile” because it had a range of less than 621 miles (1,000 kilometers), Ricker Lehner, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency told AFP.
The Pentagon’s announcement came amid growing concern over North Korea’s scheduled April 4-8 rocket launch that the United States suspects is designed as a test of a long-range ballistic missile that could theoretically reach Alaska.
It was the first time the US military fired two interceptors at a target missile in a test of defense weaponry designed to knock out missiles in their last stage of flight, Lehner said.
In a genuine attack, it would be more likely to fire more than one interceptor in case one failed, he said.
The first interceptor struck the target and the second was then destroyed by missile range safety officers, Lehner said.
The test was carried out on Tuesday at a missile range off the island of Kauai in Hawaii at 2:30 local time (0230 GMT), according a statement from the Missile Defense Agency.
In the test, the warhead on the target missile was separated from the rocket motor, requiring the interceptors to distinguish between the two.
The dummy warhead was shot down in its last minutes of flight, Lehner said.
The soldiers who operated the system did not know when the target missile would be launched and more than 20 radars and sensors were employed on the test range to collect flight test data from the interceptor and the target, Lehner said.
The exercise was a test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is designed to intercept short to medium range ballistic missiles.
The US anti-missile defense system has come in for criticism from some lawmakers over its reliability and cost, with skeptics charging the tests are not based on realistic conditions.
But the head of Northern Command, Air Force General Victor ‘Gene’ Renuart, expressed confidence in the system, telling a senate hearing on Tuesday that the military would be able to defend the United States against a possible North Korean long-range missile.
He addded that North Korea represented “a very limited threat.”

US to Launch Missile at broken satellite
Plan is to fire missiles from US Navy cruiser before it hits Earth

WASHINGTON (February 14, 2008) — President Bush has ordered the Pentagon to use a Navy missile to attempt to destroy a broken US spy satellite — and thereby minimize the risk to humans from its toxic fuel — by intercepting it just before it re-enters the atmosphere, officials said Thursday.

The effort — the first of its kind — will be undertaken because of the potential that people in the area where the satellite would otherwise crash could be harmed, the officials said.

Deputy National Security Adviser James Jeffrey, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, did not say when the attempted intercept would be conducted, but the satellite is expected to hit Earth during the first week of March.

“This is all about trying to reduce the danger to human beings,” Jeffrey said.

Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the same briefing that the “window of opportunity” for such a shootdown, presumably to be launched from a Navy ship, will open in the next three or four days and last for seven or eight days. He did not say whether the Pentagon has decided on an exact launch date.
Cartwright said this will be an unprecedented effort; he would not say exactly what are the odds of success.

“This is the first time we’ve used a tactical missile to engage a spacecraft,” Cartwright said.

After extensive study and analysis, US officials came to the conclusion that, “we’re better off taking the attempt than not,” Cartwright said.

He said a Navy missile known as Standard Missile 3 would be fired in an attempt to intercept the satellite just prior to it re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. It would be “next to impossible” to hit the satellite after that because of atmospheric disturbances, Cartwright said.

A second goal, he said, is to directly hit the fuel tank in order to minimize the amount of fuel that returns to Earth.
Software associated with the Standard Missile 3 has been modified to enhance the chances of the missile’s sensors recognizing that the satellite is its target; he noted that the missile’s designed mission is to shoot down ballistic missiles, not satellites. Other officials said the missile’s maximum range, while a classified figure, is not great enough to hit a satellite operating in normal orbits.

“It’s a one-time deal,” Cartwright said when asked whether the modified Standard Missile 3 should be considered a new US anti-satellite weapon technology.

Cartwright also said that if an initial shootdown attempt fails, a decision will be made whether to take a second shot.
Jeffrey said members of Congress were briefed on the plan earlier Thursday and that diplomatic notifications to other countries would be made before the end of the day.

Shooting down a satellite is particularly sensitive because of the controversy surrounding China’s anti-satellite test last year, when Beijing shot down one of its defunct weather satellites, drawing immediate criticism from the US and other countries.

A key concern at that time was the debris created by Chinese satellite’s destruction — and that will also be a focus now, as the US determines exactly when and under what circumstances to shoot down its errant satellite.

The military will have to choose a time and a location that will avoid to the greatest degree any damage to other satellites in the sky. Also, there is the possibility that large pieces could remain, and either stay in orbit where they can collide with other satellites or possibly fall to Earth.

It is not known where the satellite will hit. But officials familiar with the situation say about half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft is expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and will scatter debris — some of it potentially hazardous — over several hundred miles. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The satellite is outfitted with thrusters — small engines used to position it in space. They contain the toxic rocket fuel hydrazine, which can cause harm to anyone who contacts it. Officials have said there is about 1,000 pounds of propellent on the satellite.

Known by its military designation US 193, the satellite was launched in December 2006. It lost power and its central computer failed almost immediately afterward, leaving it uncontrollable. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor.

Satellite Collision Debris May Affect Space Operations, Cartwright Says
Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump / Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (February 12, 2009) — The collision yesterday of two communication satellites has left a debris pattern that may affect future space operations, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a symposium here today co-sponsored by the George C. Marshall Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Space Enterprise Council.

U.S. Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, speaking on the national security ramifications of the collision between an American and a Russian satellite, said the event shows the need for better information sharing and space situational awareness.

The American satellite, owned by Iridium Satellite of Bethesda, Md., weighed about 1,200 pounds and collided with a Russian satellite that had been nonoperational for more than a decade. The crash happened 491 miles above Siberia. The collision was confirmed when the active U.S. satellite did not report in and the debris field was picked up by sensors.

“My worry is that debris field is going to be up there for about a year, so we’re going to have to play a little bit of dodgeball,” Cartwright said. “It’s going to be a problem because it will take a month or two for the debris to settle down and for us to understand the scope of the field to be able to track it and understand where at least the larger objects are.”

The debris will be around for some time because the satellites were in a high orbit around the earth, Cartwright said. Once the debris field has stabilized, there will be a pattern that all countries can use to navigate around, he said. “It’s a field of debris out there that’s going to be out there for many years,” he said. “The good news is once it’s stabilized, it’s relatively predictable. The bad news is, it’s a large area. If we’re denied that large area for use, it becomes a problem.”

Many of the commercial and national security satellites, particularly communications satellites, rely on certain spacing between other objects in order to be effective, Cartwright said. Losing a spot because of debris could have a financial or operational impact on anyone wanting to use the space, he said. “If that’s going to be long term, that’s a problem for us,” he said.

The general said he hopes the incident will result in a better exchange of satellite orbit data between countries. _“I’d like to be able to find a way, not only with Russia, but with other nations to make sure that our exchange of data is more complete,” he said. “We would be remiss to not take advantage of this and turn it into good.”

The growing number of satellites require improved information sharing, Cartwright said. “It is a crowded place out there today,” he said. “There is just no way around that. The need, first and foremost, for better situational awareness out there is something you have to actively pursue.”

The need for space situational awareness has changed drastically in recent years, the general said. “It was acceptable five years ago to know something was out there and check on it every couple weeks,” he said. “Those days are just not tolerable anymore.”

Whereas countries previously could wait a few days or weeks to get satellites stabilized in their orbits, the current congestion in space pushes that timeframe down to seconds and minutes, he said.

(Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump is assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Public Affairs Office.)