“This is the first time we’ve used a tactical missile to engage a spacecraft..”

Despite the assurances in this BBC report, it appears that at a press briefing at the US Department of Defence today reporters were told that there will be an attempt to destroy the out of control US spy satellite – I mentioned here previously – by firing a missile from a US Navy ship before the satellite re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.. They will, however, wait until after the Space Shuttle Atlantis has returned.. According to the latest BBC report – “the window of opportunity for the strike would open in the next three or four days and last for about a week.”

The US Navy plans to modify a Standard Missile 3 to be launched from an Aegis destroyer – usually part of the US Missile Defense System designed to intercept ballistic missiles. Gen Cartwright said they planned to have one missile shot, but there would be three missiles available on three ships. If the first attempt was unsuccessful, a decision would be made [on] whether a second attempt was required.

It must be done before it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, otherwise the craft would be “next to impossible” to hit because of atmospheric disturbances. “We are better off taking the attempt than not,” Gen Cartwright said.

Adds If it’s the Raytheon RIM-161 Standard SM-3, which uses an infra-red sensor, those missiles have a not entirely successful test history. Meanwhile The US DOD claim that “our officials have high confidence that the engagement will be successful.” Hmmm.. Update Despite claims in the Belfast Telegraph, and elsewhere, that “Astronomy enthusiasts say that debris could land anywhere from Co Cork to Co Donegal”, this report points to how the debris will be dispersed

Intercepting the satellite at about 130 nautical miles altitude will reduce the risk of debris in space. Once the satellite is hit, officials hope 50 percent of the debris will come to Earth in the first two orbits and the rest shortly thereafter, Cartwright said.

While the Associated Press reports

Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the same briefing that the “window of opportunity” for such a shootdown, presumably to be launched from a Navy ship, will open in the next three or four days and last for seven or eight days. He did not say whether the Pentagon has decided on an exact launch date.

Cartwright said this will be an unprecedented effort; he would not say exactly what are the odds of success.

“This is the first time we’ve used a tactical missile to engage a spacecraft,” Cartwright said.

After extensive study and analysis, U.S. officials came to the conclusion that, “we’re better off taking the attempt than not,” Cartwright said.

He said a Navy missile known as Standard Missile 3 would be fired in an attempt to intercept the satellite just prior to it re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. It would be “next to impossible” to hit the satellite after that because of atmospheric disturbances, Cartwright said.

A second goal, he said, is to directly hit the fuel tank in order to minimize the amount of fuel that returns to Earth.

Software associated with the Standard Missile 3 has been modified to enhance the chances of the missile’s sensors recognizing that the satellite is its target; he noted that the missile’s designed mission is to shoot down ballistic missiles, not satellites. Other officials said the missile’s maximum range, while a classified figure, is not great enough to hit a satellite operating in normal orbits.

“It’s a one-time deal,” Cartwright said when asked whether the modified Standard Missile 3 should be considered a new U.S. anti-satellite weapon technology.

Adds The Space Weather site has current footage of the satellite as viewed from Earth.

USA 193