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ASAT Weapons And Doctrine In The Early 21st Century Part Two

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Yury Zaitsev
Moscow (UPI) Feb 25, 2008
The Soviet Union once used sea reconnaissance and targeting satellites with nuclear power packs aboard. Upon completion of their duty, they would be elevated to a so-called burial orbit to circle the Earth for hundreds of years.

But one of the satellites, while still active, got out of control, descended from orbit and, partly collapsed, fell in the north of Canada. Radioactive pollution was insignificant, but the Soviet Union still had to compensate Canada for damage.

Perhaps the United States, fearing similar developments, made up its mind to destroy its USA-193/NROL-21 spy satellite on Wednesday before it entered the denser layers of the atmosphere.

The other -- and most likely -- reason for the destruction of USA-193/NROL-21 was to test anti-satellite weapons on the quiet.

The tests will be conducted under conditions as close to real warfare as possible. To destroy the satellite, three destroyers with Standard Missile-3 rockets and a floating radar similar to the American missile defense radar were used. The target satellite was destroyed with the first missile.

The Pentagon has kept suspiciously silent on the consequences of interception. There has been no analysis of the potential effect on space activities, including manned flights. The interception, if successful, could leave thousands of fragments, some quite large, that could rain down on a much wider area.

Some of the debris could rise to higher orbits and stay there for a long time, posing a threat to low-orbit spacecraft, including manned ones. Recall the uproar in the American media when a Chinese weather satellite was destroyed by a missile launched from the Earth. One of the satellite's fragments was reported to be on a collision course with the International Space Station, requiring an urgent adjustment of the station's orbit. That time the alarm proved false, but the situation could change if a larger and heavier American craft is blasted.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the decision to destroy USA-193 was taken only a few days after the United States turned down a draft of a treaty banning weapons in space, submitted to the world community by Russia and China.

The Americans have long stopped worrying about Russia's "asymmetrical" responses to U.S. military power. Not so China. Last October, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in one of his remarks that the importance of unrestricted access to space gained urgency when China successfully tested an anti-satellite missile. He said that American low-orbiting spacecraft were vulnerable and called for protection and an appropriate response.

This seems to be why U.S. President George W. Bush decided to destroy USA-193: to test a new type of strategic weapon and check the feasibility of a national anti-missile shield in an anti-satellite role.

Russian experts are not alone in this analysis. Michael Krepton, director of the space safety project at the Henry Stimson Center, also believes that the actual motive for destroying the rogue satellite is to test anti-satellite weapons in space. He also warned that the administration's official reasons were not to be trusted.

(Yury Zaitsev is an analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Space Research. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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US says satellite shoot-down a success
Washington (AFP) Feb 25, 2008
The shoot-down of a rogue spy satellite by the US Navy last week was a success and reduced the risk of damage to humans from its toxic fuel, the Pentagon said Monday in a statement.

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