Firing a missile at falling satellite is a real test


Firing a missile at falling satellite is a real test

Scripps Howard: It says something about warfare and technology that the first live use of our missile-defense system is to protect ourselves and others from one of our own satellites.

But President Bush has ordered Navy missile cruisers to shoot down a failing U.S. spy satellite over the Northern Pacific. No sooner had the order been given than the White House had to explain to other countries that this was being done for legitimate safety reasons and not as a test of our capability to use antiballistic missiles against satellites.

The Chinese in particular aren’t likely to buy it because of U.S. criticism of China’s test last year of a hit-to-kill missile against one of that country’s old weather satellites. But one of the legitimate objections to that test was that it left thousands of pieces of space debris in orbit where they continue to pose a hazard to spacecraft.

Military knowledge

The truth is that we’re likely to get some useful military and technical knowledge from shooting down an out-of-control satellite rather than intercepting mock warheads in carefully scripted tests.

Left untouched, the 5,000-pound satellite, frequently compared to the size of a school bus, would break up on re-entry, although the government doesn’t know where that will be, but it’s believed that the satellite’s fuel tank, loaded with 1,000 pounds of toxic rocket propellant, might crash to Earth intact.

In a sense, trying to shoot down the satellite is a win-win situation. If we hit it, we’re safe. And if we miss, the Russians won’t care if we deploy our missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

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