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Thu, Feb 21, 2008

Navy Missile Strikes Defunct Recon Satellite

Debris Expected To Enter Atmosphere Over Next 40 Days

Score! Just before 2230 EST Wednesday night, a missile fired from a US Navy ship struck a malfunctioning reconnaissance satellite in low orbit, in an attempt to prevent the hazardous -- and militarily sensitive -- materials onboard from falling to Earth.

The USS Lake Erie fired the SM-3 missile at 2226 EST. About one minute later, the missile struck the bus-sized satellite about 133 nautical miles above the Pacific Ocean, according to a Pentagon statement.

"A network of land, air, sea and space-based sensors confirms that the US military intercepted a nonfunctioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite which was in its final orbits before entering the earth's atmosphere," read the statement, according to Reuters. "Confirmation that the fuel tank has been fragmented should be available within 24 hours.

"Due to the relatively low altitude of the satellite at the time of the engagement, debris will begin to reenter the earth's atmosphere immediately," it added. "Nearly all of the debris will burn up on reentry within 24-48 hours and the remaining debris should reenter within 40 days."

As ANN reported, military officials announced last week their plan to shoot down the errant satellite. The NRO satellite was launched from California just over one year ago, but stopped responding to commands from earth shortly after it reached orbit.

Ostensibly, the plan was aimed at protecting those on the ground from hazardous materials onboard the satellite, including its nearly-full hydrazine fuel tank... but the plan also gave the military a chance to test its emerging missile defense technology.

That opportunity wasn't lost on Russia and China... which each mildly protested the shootdown plan. The Russian Defense Ministry expressed concern the operation could be used as cover to test a new space weapon.

FMI: www.pentagon.mil, www.navy.mil

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