Kaboom! Go Navy! NROL-21 hit by USS Lake Erie
The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
A missile fired from a US Navy warship has hit a defunct spy satellite in space in an effort to prevent its toxic fuel tank from crashing to Earth, a Pentagon source says. "The missile's been launched and (it was) a successful intercept," the source said.
The AP has a few further details.
The USS Lake Erie, armed with an SM-3 missile designed to knock down incoming missiles — not orbiting satellites — launched the attack at 10:26 p.m. EST, according to the Pentagon. It hit the satellite as the spacecraft traveled at more than 17,000 mph.
Because the satellite was orbiting at a relatively low altitude at the time it was hit by the missile, debris will begin to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere immediately, the Pentagon statement said.
"Nearly all of the debris will burn up on re-entry within 24-48 hours and the remaining debris should re-enter within 40 days," it said.
The use of the Navy missile amounted to an unprecedented use of components of the Pentagon's missile defense system, designed to shoot down hostile ballistic missiles in flight — not kill satellites.
The operation was so extraordinary, with such intense international publicity and political ramifications, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates — not a military commander — was to make the final decision to pull the trigger.