U.S. has high confidence it hit satellite fuel tank

Thu Feb 21, 2008 7:35pm EST
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By Andrew Gray

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Thursday it was very confident that a spectacular and unprecedented missile strike from a U.S. Navy warship had destroyed the toxic fuel tank of a defunct U.S. spy satellite.

The 1,000 pound (450 kg) fuel tank could have released its load of hydrazine fuel as a toxic gas if it had fallen to Earth, causing health risks for anyone nearby, officials said.

The strike took place 153 miles above the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday as the satellite sped through space at more than 17,000 mph (27,000 kph), the Pentagon reported.

"This was uncharted territory. The technical degree of difficulty was significant here," said Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"You can imagine, at the point of intercept, there were a few cheers that went up in operations centers and on that ship," Cartwright told reporters at the Pentagon.

Both Russia and China had expressed concern ahead of the mission.

Moscow said it could be used as cover to test a new space weapon. China, criticized by Washington after it shot down one of its own satellites last year, said the operation may influence security in space and harm other countries.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington could share some information to reassure China about the operation.  Continued...


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