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Pentagon: Bullseyed turkey-sat pieces will all burn up

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The US military says it is corporately very pleased with the results of last Thursday's missile intercept of a malfunctioning spy satellite above the Pacific. According to American space radar, only small fragments of the bus-sized spacecraft remain in orbit, and they will all burn up as they re-enter.

America's number-two serviceman, General James Cartwright - who was the public face of the intercept operation - spread the praise lavishly in a release yesterday.

"The successful satellite engagement was truly a collaborative effort from across the U.S. government, the armed forces, industry and academia working together," he said.

"Close workings with the National Security Council, State Department, Defense Department, NASA, Missile Defense Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, and Department of Homeland Security was absolutely key to the effort. The U.S. Navy... was fundamental to the operation and did a superb job. The expertise of people from the U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Space Command and Army Strategic Command was invaluable."

General Cartwright supervised the operation personally from the Pentagon's National Military Command center, wearing a flight suit. An American warship in the Pacific, USS Lake Erie, fired a modified SM-3 missile which lobbed a small kinetic kill vehicle into the dead satellite's path. The crippled spacecraft destroyed itself as it smashed into the vehicle at several miles per second.

It seems that the US space scanners can see fewer than 3,000 bits of debris still orbiting, "all smaller than a football". These are expected to re-enter and burn up in "coming days and weeks... it is unlikely any will remain intact to impact the ground."

"By all accounts this was a successful mission," said General Cartwright.

Pah. We'd have much preferred an outcome involving secret spy-sat tech turning up on eBay - possibly giving away some amazing new skyspy gadget, or perhaps revealing something really embarrassing like a sandwich left in the works during assembly. But, as the general says, the destruction mission seems to have achieved its aim. ®

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