Filed at 10:53 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A missile launched from a Navy ship successfully struck a dying U.S. spy satellite passing 130 miles over the Pacific on Wednesday, a defense official said. Full details were not immediately available.
It happened just after 10:30 p.m. EST.
Two officials said the missile was launched successfully. One official, who is close to the process, said it hit the target. He said details on the results were not immediately known.
The goal in this first-of-its-kind mission for the Navy was not just to hit the satellite but to obliterate a tank aboard the spacecraft carrying 1,000 pounds of a toxic fuel called hydrazine.
U.S. officials have said the fuel would pose a potential health hazard to humans if it landed in a populated area. Although the odds of that were small even if the Pentagon had chosen not to try to shoot down the satellite, it was determined that it was worth trying to eliminate even that small chance.
Officials said it might take a day or longer to know for sure if the toxic fuel was blown up.
9:30 PM Mountain, February 20, 2008 - Pentagon Says Missile
Hit Spy Satellite Tonight.
“Confirmation that the fuel tank has been fragmented should be available
within 24 hours. Nearly all of the debris will burn up on re-entry within 24 to 48 hours
and the remaining debris should re-enter within 40 days.” - Pentagon Press Release
The Pentagon reports tonight the U. S. Navy launched a missile attack from an American Navy ship that struck the broken USA-193 spy satellite at 130 miles over the Pacific. The newes release was not clear whether the operation succeeded in its main goal of destroying a tank aboard the satellite that carried the toxic fuel described as hydrazine that U.S. officials said could pose a hazard to humans and animals if it lands in a populated area.
“How the missile hits the satellite will affect how quickly the debris re-enters and what the velocity is between the objects and how they hit. Are they attempting to get most of the debris to come down in the Pacific almost immediately? Or, over the course of two or three revolutions, is most of it going to start to fall out?” - Bob Hall, AGI Computer Models
Possible image of American spy satellite,
USA-193 (NROL-21). Image source unclear.
Out-of-control American spy satellite, USA-193, also known as NROL-21, was launched aboard a Delta II rocket on December 14, 2006, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Shortly after the satellite reached orbit, ground controllers lost contact with it. Space.com reports, “Though the satellite's objective is secret, many believe it is probably a high-resolution radar satellite intended to produce images for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).” The goal now is to destroy the crippled satellite with a Standard Missile 3. China did the same thing in 2007 by attacking its Fengyun-1C weather satellite, which produced a lot of space debris. The American spy satellite is already falling toward earth, so the February 20th attack on it will be much lower than the Chinese debris - thus, perhaps burning up faster.
USA-193 has a mass of about 5,015 pounds (2,275 kilograms).
Standard Missile 3 would be fired from a Navy ship in the North Pacific Ocean.
Interception would occur at an altitude of about 149 miles (240 kilometers).
Missile would close on USA-193 at a velocity of about 22,783 mph (36,667 kph).
UPDATED AND EDITED: The Navy has shot down a dying spy satellite. Now the question is: what happens to the debris? The folks over at Analytical Graphics and Applied Defense Solutions have put together a statistical simulation of one likely scenario.
Analytical Graphics (AGI) works up these sorts of sims all the time, for scientific- and defense-oriented space programs. The trajectory for John Hopkins' exploration of Pluto was plotted with AGI's help, for example. "Every branch of the military" uses their software, AGI's Timothy Carrico says. The Air Force's 22nd Space Operations Squadron uses their products to help crunch collision-avoidance data for more than 80 satellites, according to Peter J. Brown at Via Satellite magazine. And AGI created a more accurate orbit determination system for the Naval Satellite Operations Center.
What makes the sims special is the injection of real-world physics. Unlike the zippy little animations you'll see on the evening news, every piece of debris in this satellite shoot-down model has been given its own mass, area, speed, velocity and drag.
Not every element of this particular model is hyper-realistic, however. AGI put together a sim based on the Pentagon's assertion that 50 percent of the debris would burn up in the atmosphere during the first two passes.
The model was set up also for the north Pacific, generally -- not for the specific no-fly zone that the Navy has now carved out. [UPDATE: A new video, featured above, now has the missile launching from the proper place.] The mass and area of the debris is uniformly distributed (although changes in velocity and direction are more natural).
Still, this is about as realistic a simulation you're going to see. For now.
"A U.S. Navy cruiser blasted a disabled spy satellite with a pinpoint missile strike that achieved the main mission of exploding a tank of toxic fuel 130 miles above the Pacific Ocean," the AP reports.
Destroying the satellite's onboard tank of about 1,000 pounds of hydrazine fuel was the primary goal, and a senior defense official close to the mission said Thursday that it appears the tank was destroyed, and the strike with a specially designed missile was a complete success.
More pics here, and more to come, naturally...
The military may be warning sailors and pilots to keep away from that part of the Pacific where a dying satellite is due to get taken down.
But, as the New York Post notes, "no one in the government has said anything to the 70 people who live on Midway, who are mostly government workers and contractors associated with the Fish and Wildlife Service refuge on the island."
"They haven't called us. Maybe they should," refuge manager Barry Christenson told The Post.
Told that the satellite is about the size of a bus, Christensen said he saw the potential for calamity.
"That would just crush our island - we're just a bunch of sand sitting on top of coral," he said. "Even if it landed out in the lagoon, it could send up a heck of a wave."