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US Missile Shoots Down Wayward Spy Satellite


U.S officials say a missile launched from a Navy ship in the Pacific successfully hit a U.S. spy satellite more than 200 kilometers above the Earth. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles that President Bush ordered the shoot-down last week out of concern that toxic fuel on board the wayward satellite could crash to Earth and harm people.

The Navy modified three missiles for the shoot-down, and defense officials say the first successfully hit the target about 0330 UTC Thursday. The Pentagon says that land, air, sea and space-based sensors confirmed the intercept.

The dying satellite stopped communicating with controllers on Earth shortly after it was launched 14 months ago, and it began to slowly fall. The shoot-down was intended to destroy a tank aboard the craft holding 450 kilograms of a toxic fuel called hydrazine.

Officials said the fuel posed a danger to humans if the tank survived re-entry.

The Defense Department says officials should have confirmation that the fuel tank was fragmented within 24 hours.

The Pentagon says debris from the satellite will begin to enter Earth's atmosphere immediately, and most will burn up within 24 to 48 hours. Remaining debris should re-enter within 40 days.

Admiral Tim Keating, who spoke at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu shortly before the missile launch, said officials are monitoring the debris situation closely.

"And we have teams positioned, you may or may not know, to attend to the management of consequences, some of them in the Pacific, some of them in other parts of the country, to lend assistance should parts of the satellite survive the missile impact and hit. We don't think the hydrazine container is going to hit. That's why we're shooting at it," he said.

The USS Lake Erie, at sea in the Pacific, launched a three-stage SM-3 missile, which hit its target three minutes later. The SM-3 is part of the Pentagon's missile defense system, which is designed to shoot down hostile ballistic missiles, not satellites. The missile and its targeting system were modified for the mission.

Russia and China have criticized the shoot-down, saying it could harm security in space. The United States and other nations criticized China for an unannounced missile launch last year in which China destroyed one of its own satellites.

U.S. officials said China was testing an anti-satellite weapon. They say the American operation is not a missile test, and the falling satellite was in a much lower orbit than most working satellites.

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