February 20, 2008

Satellite shoot order may be from Oz

The man charged with giving the order to shoot down a failed United States spy satellite might do it from Australia.

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates is due in Australia in the coming days as part of a nine-day tour that will take him first to Hawaii and then Australia before he goes on to Indonesia, India and Turkey.

Exact details of his itinerary have not been released.

A Pentagon spokesman said Mr Gates would be able to give the order to take down the satellite from anywhere, with the first attempt due on Thursday. The operation is set to cost about $40 million.

"The secretary is prepared to make that call from the road, if necessary, during his nine-day, around-the-world trip that begins tomorrow," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters.

The "window of opportunity" to hit the satellite is open for eight days.

The US plans to use a Standard SM-3 missile to hit the highly classified satellite - the first such strike ever conducted by the US - and hopes the remains will land in the ocean.

There is a minute possibility the debris will hit earth, and Australia and other nations have been put on standby for that possibility.

China successfully conducted a similar mission last year, much to the consternation of Western nations.

But Mr Morrell was keen to emphasise the mission was not being seen inside the Pentagon as an opportunity to test US space weapons power.

"This operation is designed to alleviate a threat to human beings on this planet.

"There is a large tank of hydrazine fuel onboard that satellite that would pose a significant threat to people within the immediate vicinity of it, if it were to hit land," Mr Morrell said.

"So, not wishing to take that risk, the President has asked, ordered, this department to shoot down that satellite."


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