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US Cruiser Strikes Dead Spy Satellite

Article Updated: 26 Dec , 2015

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Officials have confirmed that the US spy satellite, USA 193, has been hit by an anti-satellite missile fired from USS Lake Erie positioned west of the Hawaiian Islands in the mid-Pacific at 10.30pm (US Eastern Time) Wednesday night. Fears of the propellant hydrazine being released into the atmosphere prompted the military response. Although plans for the missile strike were hampered by bad weather, the launch appears to have gone ahead regardless.

The 10.30pm time window was chosen by the US so that should the first attempt fail, a second and then a third attempt could be carried out. The window was only 10 seconds long, and BBC correspondent Jonathan Beale, based in Washington, says this operation was hugely ambitious and likened it to “trying to fire a missile through the eye of a needle.”
The anatomy of a satellite shoot down (credit: BBC)
It is hoped that the modified Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) successfully destroyed the large orbiting mass, containing 450kg (1,000lbs) of the poisonous propellant hydrazine. The SM-3 does not carry a warhead; it depends on its high velocity and weight to destroy the target. Travelling at a velocity of over 17,000 mph, on impact the missile and satellite should break up, creating debris and hopefully destroying the full fuel tank. Most of the debris is expected to burn up in the Earths atmosphere over the next 15 hours (or two Earth orbits), and all of it is expected to have re-entered over the next 40 days, eliminating the risk of the poisonous fuel falling to Earth. However, at least 24 hours will be needed to assess how successful the strike has been.
The US spy satellite, that malfunctioned soon after launch, has been destroyed
In an official statement, the Department of Defence has said, “A network of land-, air-, sea- and space-based sensors confirms that the U.S. military intercepted a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite which was in its final orbits before entering the Earth’s atmosphere […] At approximately 10:26 p.m. EST today, a U.S. Navy AEGIS warship, the USS Lake Erie, fired a single modified tactical Standard Missile-3, hitting the satellite approximately 247 kilometers (133 nautical miles) over the Pacific Ocean as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph.

The missile strike has prompted anger from both Russia and China, as the nations see it as a provocative manoeuvre by the US, but US officials insist that the missile strike was not intended to showcase their anti-satellite technology and was not used to destroy any top-secret orbital weapon.

Sources: CNN, BBC


28 Responses

  1. Danzio says:

    It is precisely the opposite of what the government is saying. China did it and Russia could too. Are you kidding!? We better be able to or . . .
    Or we are a bunch of weenies!!
    Yeah Baby!

    So just two questions? . . .
    How are they tracking all the debris?
    Is this the next level of a new quieter cold war?

  2. Glen says:

    Maybe now the people saying BMD can’t work will start to think that the system will work!
    Remember the decision to retarget the missile was made only a week ago!

  3. Keith A says:

    And the cowards thump their chests…

    And, of course, our national fighter “shield” can stop any plane on the continent in 15 minutes…

    At least the knuckledraggers are happy…

  4. Dark Gnat says:

    The Chinese goverment are being hypocrits. It’s OK for them to shoot down a satellite 500 miles up. leaving debris in orbit for years, but they get all pissy about the US’s actions.

  5. cassandra says:

    We spent a trillion dollars for this? We were able to “hit” high-speed spacecraft (docking) back in the 1960’s. Si, se puede!

  6. zap says:

    Dark Gnat,

    And OUR government was all pissy about the Chinese doing that.

  7. Rusty Shackleford says:

    What they are not telling us is that this is all part of an elaborate plan to combat global warming. Send a bunch of crap up into orbit and blow it up. The debris will stockpile up there until there is enough to reflect a significant percentage of sunlight…….
    Makes sense to me.

  8. zap says:

    Dark Gnat,
    Williamson added, “I fear that using a ballistic missile in this manner after the United States roundly chastised the Chinese government for its anti-satellite (ASAT) test just over a year ago sends completely the wrong message to the world community.”

  9. clocker says:

    Rusty Shackleford,

    Great idea!

  10. Dwight says:

    Ain’t nothing new about this. I worked on classified defense programs back in the early 80’s that were capable of downing satellites with literally a “flying brick”; i.e., direct intercept–no explosive warhead needed!

  11. Joseph says:

    the new cold war will not be quiet once it really gets in motion, which will probably be very soon. The US cried about it when others did it so the US is being hypocritical as are the other nations. All of these weapons tests and the space agency is losing support for exploration. I am pleased that there is a focus……….

  12. Tman says:

    First, it’s just plain cool we can intersect a satellite so precisely that explosives aren’t required.

    Second, it was our toy and it was broken, so we can shoot it down (or blow it into tiny bits) if we want to.

    Third, I’m glad we have acquired this level of technology. I’ll change my tune if we use it for unprovoked aggression. However, as means to protect us from overhead threats: RIGHT ON!

  13. David Madison, Sr. says:

    Equating this event with the earlier Chinese missile strike on a satellite completely misses the motive issue. There was no reason for the Chinese strike other than to prove they were bad boys nobody should mess with. The debris cloud from that hit is now a significant problem for space travel. The motive for the US hit, in contrast, was to prevent injury or death here on Earth.

  14. Johnny Blues says:

    The difference between the Chinese intercept and the USA intercept is simple. The Chinese did it secretly, without regard to the debris still orbiting earth. The USA announced its intentions and did all possible to minimize any orbital debris hazard. To equate these two events is absurd.

  15. Snowflake says:

    The Russian protest comes apparently from the politicians only. The head of the Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos), stated a couple of days ago that shooting down the satellite was only sensible and proper.

  16. marcellus says:

    It was a spectacular success! I’d rather have a missile defense shield than no defense shield. This is money well spent and I completely agree with David Madison’s comments.

    The Chinese should go clean up their mess. Go Navy!

  17. Afthought says:

    I am so proud. And I do so hope our enemies will take heed and never, ever, dare to attack the US in anything but good weather.

  18. Skip Ryan says:

    This was a resounding success for the US! We should all be very proud for our country, and I say that with all sincerity.

    Besides, with the nuclear proliferation being all the rage these days, I submit that it was good for Pyongyang and Teheran to observe that their few missiles and atomic ambitions suddenly aren’t as spooky as they were a week ago.

  19. whoknowsidont says:

    I’m certainly not a fan of the Chinese government and how they’re harming our economy. But you should be able to see the USA from the rest of the world: The US is the only country (yet) to use nuclear bombs on another country. The US is the first to begin an insane “Star Wars” Defense system (not insane because it couldn’t intercept nuclear missiles but because it could be easily decoyed–and it cost too much). And the US has proved that we can attack countries for false reasons.

    What is so great about hitting a satellite moving in the same general direction as the missile? We’ve been doing that for years with our spacecraft dockings. We do things far more amazing–sending landers to other planets and moons, etc.

    Yes, I favor America over the rest of the world but for different reasons from flexing our military muscles.

  20. Skip Ryan says:

    “…The US is the only country(yet) to use nuclear bombs on another country.” Sheesh. Might there have been a reason for that? If memory serves, we (as well as the British Commonwealth, and the Dutch) were locked in a bit of a tiff with the Japanese Empire, and the Japanese had shown a rather alarming propensity to die wholesale, i.e., to the last man, rather than surrender.

    Practically every military in the world talks about “death before dishonor” and fighting to the last man and last bullet (France excepted), but Imperial Japan not only practiced it, they expanded “last man/last bullet” to “last man, woman and child, and last bullet, rock and pointed stick.” This is not hyperbole. The battles for Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa make this quite clear. Be advised that in Saipan, civililans committed suicide by the tens of thousands-whole families- rather than face American forces.

    Incidently, those who hesitated to jump from the cliffs were killed by Japanese snipers. There is a LOT of newsreel footage attesting to this.

    Did you know that the Japanese ordered civilians, children-male and female- mostly, to meet the invading US forces first? The thought was that after we had exhausted ourselves physically and mentally, then they’d send in the troops. Did you know that they boys and girls ordered to their deaths here were to be armed with spears? Of course you didn’t.

    Were you aware that the Japanese Ministry of Defense estimated that had Operation OLYMPIC (the US invasion of Japan) had been executed, that Japan would have suffered, conservatively, 3-5 MILLION casualties?

    And that’s just from battle. How many more Japanese CIVILIANS would have died from continued bombing raids elsewhere (OLYMPIC was to take place in the southern islands of Honshu and Kyushu), starvation and disease is inestimable. Let’s go with lots more.

    Then there’s mainland Asia. The Japanese were still a viable force there with over 3.5 million soldiers in China alone. No doubt that after we had invaded Japan, those troops would have quit fighting the Chinese (atrocities in China are said to make anything that the Nazis did seem kind by comparison) sat down and watched the show from afar, right?

    Moreover, after, I say again, AFTER, Hirohito had recorded his surrender message to the Allies (one would have thought that after the Hiroshoma bombing he would have done it then, but no, we had to nuke Nagasaki, too), officers of the Imperial Japanese Army, sworn to obey the Emperor unto death, staged a coup in order to overthrow said “Living God” (in who’s name they had been sending millions of their countrymen to death since 1935), with the hope of continuing the Pacific War.

    What we did with Hiroshima and Nagasaki was save a several million lives of our enemy, let alone a few million lives of our own and our Allies. How dare we.

  21. Rude Dude says:

    Danzio you are Correct Sir!

    I’m guessing that as soon as China killed one of there own satelites that was the justification we were waiting on to try one of our own. The political dilema back in the 50’s was how the Soviets and the world would react to the over flight of their airspace with satelites. As soon as Russia did it – it was OK for us to do it.

    In todays political climate we wouldn’t want to be the first one blowing stuff up in space for any reason.

    I just hope that this new “space race” concentrates more on the really important stuff like ID / tracking prolification of Nukes coming from that irritating little spot on the globe called “___________”

  22. whoknowsidont says:

    The reason we built the bomb was that we believed Hitler may get it first. But he didn’t get it, and we defeated Germany without it. We used it on Japan when it wasn’t necessary–they had no A bomb and weren’t anywhere close to having one.

    But that’s not my point. My point is (whether justified) we are the only country that has proved we will use a nuclear weapon. We started an arms race that has cost trillions and made the world less safe. I will agree there are many others in the world who are far more evil. We have helped them, both in nuclear materials to steal and example, to kill millions more than the WWII Japanese.

    We had to build the bomb–I agree. Our mistake was using it for a reason it wasn’t meant. Do you think we should nuke Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iran?

  23. HT says:

    “Practically every military in the world talks about “death before dishonor” and fighting to the last man and last bullet (France excepted), but Imperial Japan not only practiced it, they expanded “last man/last bullet” to “last man, woman and child, and last bullet, rock and pointed stick.” This is not hyperbole. The battles for Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa make this quite clear. Be advised that in Saipan, civililans committed suicide by the tens of thousands-whole families- rather than face American forces.”

    So, Skip Ryan, Why did they stop fighting? Why would the two “atomic” bombs stop them?

  24. Skip Ryan says:

    Why the quotes for atomic bomb? Where they atomic or not? It is rather important to get our terms correct, yes?

    Japan stopped fighting, finally, because Emperor Hirohito, as he stated in his surrender address could no longer countenance the suffering that his people were experiencing.

    This does not alter the fact that Army HQ officers attempted a coup with the hope of keeping the war going. Fortunately, some people were more loyal to Hirohito than to Bushido.

    There is book entitled “Flyboys”, alas, I cannot recall the author, but I believe that he also wrote “Flags of Our Fathers”, but I am not fully confident there. It is a fantastic insight into the Japanese mind-set during the Pacific War. I highly recommend that before one finds fault with these bombings, one read this book. Readings in bushido- by Japanese authors-would also be helpful in understanding why Operation Olympic would NOT have been preferable to 2 mushroom clouds and that the Japanese were not going to surrender.

    To study history as it is recorded is, especially from the perspective of the “Other Guys” is much more preferable to reliance on theory.

    Launching an arms race? What, the Soviets were a peacful minded lot aforehand? You might wish to inquire about that to the Finns. A very strong argument can be made that the Bomb actually saved lives beyond the MILLIONS saved due to Hiroshima and Nagasaki (remember, the Japanese concur in this assessment).

    One should hope that you are aware that GEN Douglas MacArthur had hoped to make use of nuclear weapons during the Korean War. Thank God President Truman understood the leadership maxim of “When in charge, take charge”, and finally fired MacArthur before things got out of hand. The spectre of the Bomb, in Truman’s own writings, was a major factor in his decision. Truman wrote of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki haunting him, and not wanting to visit that upon Korean and Chinese cities, especially considering that nuclear weapons technology had progressed markedly in 5+ years time (see: “Hydrogen bomd”).

    BTW: So-called conventional “fire-bombing” raids on many other Japanese cities, and several German ones, caused far more destruction and death than the A-bomb cities combined, but I guess that’s okay for the purpose of this debate.

    The Spectre of the Bomb effect also undoubtedly kept the Soviet Union out of Western Europe. Many people like to paint the US as an aggressor nation during this period, but, factually (sorry), we actually invaded very few countries with the result of claiming those previously sovereign states as our own. A quick look-see of the period 1945-1991 would show that the US invested no countries with the intent of adding either a new territory or state.

    No, North Vietnam was actively supporting an insurretion in South Vietnam, we sought to stop it. When we were successful in that endevour, Nort Vietnam actually invaded the sovereign state of South Vietnam.

    No, North Korea invaded South Vietnam. We removed the North Koreans from the Republic of Korea, and, perhaps, went too far north. China invaded pushing UN troops back south. We came back, stabilizing the border (more or less). A state of war technically still exists. In either event, the US goal there was not an imperialist one.

    Yet, over in Europe, Poland, Hungary, Czecholslovkia, etc., etc., etc. And just a bit farther south, The SU’s last imperialist (what else to call it- they grabbed land in order to make it their own) action- Afghanistan.

    What kept these events from getting larger? The bomb.

    BTW: Japan had a Bomb program, too. Fortunately, they, too, followed the German heavy water model, and were even farther behind the Germans in this regard.

    The Spectre of the Bomb (there is a fascinatingly ironic acronym there, yes?) also kept us out of Cuba after Castro went red. Little known but Castro had some tacit support within the Eisenhower adminstration at first. We liked the Cuban people. But then, Castro announced himself a communist and the US lost a LOT of money. No surprise that a LOT of people close to Ike wanted us to go take Cuba back, maybe even re-install Batitista as El Presidente. But like Truman, Ike was concerned about the Bomb, this time Bombs addressed “From Russia with Love.” And he wasn’t going to do it over Cuba.

    History: it’s fantastic.

  25. Skip Ryan says:

    Stupid typo above there: Korea v. Vietnam. You know what I meant so let’s not dwell on it, eh?

  26. Brad says:

    Despite the regrettable loss of life, I as an Australian thank the American forces for dropping nuclear weapons on Japan. I seriously doubt that fewer lives would have been lost of the war continued conventionally. I’m sure my grandfather who was fighting the Japanese in Papua New Guinea at the time would also thank you were he still alive. As many of you may not have been aware, Australia was next. The Japanese had already commenced bombing Australian cities and attacking shipping in the area. Thank god for all those who put the lives of others before their own. I won’t forget you.

  27. Skeptic says:

    The real contest is the war between the space powers. To prevent the U.S. from overwhelming the Chinese by our technological know-how, the Chinese are ready to blow away U.S. spy satellites and render our GPS guided missiles worthless. Of course, in order to do that, they have to rely on their own spy satellites to guide their missiles. We, having more spy satellites than they have, will have some remaining while the Chinese ones will all be destroyed. This is a game where numbers count.

  28. Keith Nealy says:

    I gather from the thrust of this conversation that no one believes this satellite was shot down to protect us from deadly hydrazine. What difference would it make if they bust it up and then it all comes crashing down, or if it comes down and busts up in the atmosphere. As I understand it, hydrazine is highly volatile and flammable. Wouldn’t it just burn up quite nicely on its own?

    So the remaining reasons appear to be to test our anti-sat weapons, demonstrate them to the world, and/or prevent the recovery of large chunks of this super-secret sat from being recovered by anyone other than us.

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