- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pentagon officials yesterday confirmed that the attempt to bring down a defunct U.S. spy satellite last week was a complete success, had produced no hazardous waste and left only small particles of debris showering the Earth.

The analysis of fallen debris from the obliterated satellite reassured defense officials that the missile hit had eliminated potential hazards from the satellite’s hydrazine tank, which could have posed a danger to humans if it had fallen to Earth unintercepted.

“By all accounts, this was a successful mission,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “From the debris analysis, we have a high degree of confidence the satellite’s fuel tank was destroyed and the hydrazine has been dissipated.”

Last week, Gen. Cartwright was cautious not to announce that the hydrazine tank had been destroyed. On Thursday, he said military officials gave an “80 [percent] to 90 percent” chance that the toxic-fuel tank was destroyed but were proceeding as if it weren’t.

A single modified tactical Standard Missile-3, fired from the USS Lake Erie west of Hawaii at about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, destroyed the satellite. Defense operatives had only a 10-second window to hit the satellite, which was 150 nautical miles in space and moving at a speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the mission’s success shows that U.S. plans for a missile-defense system are realistic.

Two remaining modified missiles that were to be used in the case of an unsuccessful first attempt “will be configured back to their original status as tactical missiles and the operational computer-software programs aboard the Aegis ships will be reinstalled,” defense officials said.

Gen. Cartwright credited the mission’s success to “truly a collaborative effort from across the U.S. government, the armed forces, industry and academia working together to reduce the risk to human life.”

“The U.S. Navy, particularly the Pacific Fleet, was fundamental to the operation and did a superb job,” he added.

Defense officials say the majority of debris has already re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere but was burned up upon re-entry. There are no reports of any debris hitting the planet’s surface, and defense officials do not expect that to change as the rest of the satellite’s remains fall back to Earth.

Specialists at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., are tracking almost 3,000 pieces of debris, none as large as a football.

Last week, Chinese authorities criticized the U.S. for the downing of the satellite, despite Beijing’s launch of a ballistic missile in January 2007 to destroy an old weather satellite.

Defense Department officials have told The Washington Times that China has never been open with the U.S. about its strategic missiles or military buildup, adding that Mr. Gates raised concerns regarding China’s missile launch to leaders during his November visit to Beijing, but China refused to respond.

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