Russia and China are urging the UN to outlaw
the development or testing of systems that can destroy space satellites. This
comes only a year after China tested a satellite destruction system. They used
a KillSat (Killer Satellite) that destroyed an old Chinese weather satellite,
about 850 kilometers up on January 11th,
2007. That's at the upper range of where most reconnaissance satellites hang
The impetus for this new enthusiasm
over satellite destruction was the February 22nd, 2008 destruction
of a broken U.S. spy satellite by a U.S. warship, firing an anti-aircraft
missile modified to intercept ballistic missiles and, to the surprise of China
and Russia, satellites in a low earth orbit (160-2,000 kilometers up) [VIDEO]. The U.S. cruiser used its Aegis radar to
locate the satellite, some 220 kilometers above, then fired a single SM-3
missile [PHOTOS] to destroy the SUV sized satellite.
Throughout the Cold War, Russia and China
always worried about new American military technology. A lot of these nasty
surprises were not even American (like composite armor, which is a British
development). But U.S. surprises like smart bombs, stealth aircraft and truly
bullet proof body armor kept the fear alive. Now, there's this anti-missile
system that doubles as a destroyer of low flying satellites. Lots of spy
satellites have low orbits.
So far, the Aegis system has knocked
down 85 percent of the missiles fired towards it. To do this, the navy modified
its Standard anti-aircraft missile system to knock down ballistic missiles.
This system, the RIM-161A, also known as the Standard Missile 3 (or SM-3), has
a range of over 500 kilometers and max altitude of over 200 kilometers. Previously,
the max altitude of the SM-3 was give as 160 kilometers.
The Standard 3 is based on the failed
anti-missile version of the Standard 2, and costs over three million dollars each.
The Standard 3 has four stages. The first two stages boost the interceptor out
of the atmosphere. The third stage fires twice to boost the interceptor farther
beyond the earth's atmosphere. Prior to each motor firing, it takes a GPS
reading to correct its course as it approaches the target. The fourth stage is
the 20 pound LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to close on the
target and ram it.
The Aegis system only operates from
warships (cruisers and destroyers that have been equipped with the special
software that enables the AEGIS radar system to detect and track incoming
ballistic missiles). Since the satellite was destroyed at a low altitude, the fragments
will quickly fall into the atmosphere and burn up. A Chinese anti satellite
test last year was done 850 kilometers up, and nearly all those fragments are
still in orbit.
The U.S. Navy has also been working on
launching various types of satellites from its submarines. One variety is the
KillSat, that can reach birds in higher orbits. While the solid fuel SLBMs (sea
launched ballistic missiles) can only put a ton or so (usually less) into
orbit, U.S. engineers have long been known for getting a lot of capability into
small packages. Smaller satellites can be put in orbit quickly using SLBMs.
While the U.S. Air Force lays claim to
all things space, the U.S. Navy is quick to demonstrate that sailors are able
to operate up there as well. The implications is that maybe the navy should get
more of the billions being spent on space operations. Back in the 1980s, the
air force had developed a system (ASM-135) for knocking down low orbit
satellites, using a missile launched from a high flying jet fighter. This was
done in response to news that Russia was developing a similar system. The
Russian system relied on killsats, and was never that effective. A successful test of ASM-135 was conducted in
1985, but the program was shut down three years later because the air force
preferred to spend the money elsewhere. The navy developed their anti-satellite
capability without making a lot of noise, which has caused quite a fuss at air