A malfunctioning spy satellite -- the size of a bus, weighing between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds, and carrying 1,000 pounds of highly toxic rocket propellent -- was falling back to earth. Because the malfunction occurred shortly after launch, the satellite's booster rocket propellent had not been expended so the tank was full and experts feared that satellite posed significant risk. That was the bad news.
But here is good news -- we have the technology to destroy the satellite before it falls to earth and we successfully used that technology to destroy the satellite before it could do any harm. Because the United States has a missile defense program, it has developed a layered missile defense system that gives the United States the ability to shoot down missiles. Some of that technology is based on Navy Aegis cruisers at sea and some of that technology is land-based in California and Alaska. Additionally, a complex network of high tech radar and tracking technology is employed to enable this defensive missile technology to track and destroy missiles that are moving at more than 15,000 miles per hour. Other technologies, such as the airborne laser, are under development and will give the U.S. even greater capacity to defend itself and allies from missile attacks.
However, now we see another use for this amazing technology. The Navy successfully shot down the malfunctioning satellite just before it entered the atmosphere -- about 150 miles up in space -- using a piece of our nation’s missile defense system. Destroying it too early while it was still in space would have left debris which is hazardous to astronauts, satellites, the space station, and future space exploration. But destroying the satellite right as it reentered the earth’s atmosphere allowed any debris to burn up.
The first shot was on target and it destroyed the malfunctioning satellite. If for any reason, the first shot had missed, there would have been time and opportunity for additional shots. But they were not needed. The system worked exactly as it was supposed to. This shows that missile defense is important, not only because it protects Americans from nuclear threats and nuclear blackmail, but also because this technology has other benefits and uses -- some of which we cannot predict or foresee.