Thu, Mar 13, 2008
Hopefully, They Won't Have To Shoot This One Down
An Atlas 5 rocket carrying a classified National Reconnaissance
Office satellite lifted off successfully in the wee hours of
The Associated Press reports the booster launched from
California's Vandenburg AFB at 0302 PDT. United Launch Alliance
spokesman Mike Rein said only "it went great," but added he
couldn't say whether the satellite reached orbit "because of the
nature of the launch."
No details of the mission were available.
In the worst-case scenario, at least, the launch may provide
Defense Department planners with another opportunity to test their
missile defense system. As ANN reported, on February
21 a missile fired from a Navy warship struck a malfunctioning NRO
satellite that apparently went dark shortly after its December 2006
Officials told the public they were concerned parts of the
bus-sized satellite would possibly fall on inhabited areas if
allowed to reenter Earth's atmosphere on its own... including a
nearly-full tank of hydrazine, a highly toxic propellant used in
the satellite's maneuvering thrusters. Military leaders also
expressed misgivings about the possibility the technology onboard
the reconnaissance satellite -- in particular, a top-secret imaging
camera -- could have fallen into hostile hands.
US authorities took steps to placate leaders in China and Russia
ahead of, and immediately after, the launch... stating the
shootdown was primarily a humanitarian gesture, and not an overt
military action. Days after the successful operation, however,
Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointedly noted the firing was a
missile defense test.
Thursday's launch was the first firing of an Atlas V booster
from the West Coast. All previous Atlas V launches by ULA have
occurred in Florida.
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