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Pentagon says sat-smash smithereen cloud almost gone

Orbital turkey blitz 'added value', seemingly

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An American admiral says that all significant orbital debris from the recent missiling of a duff spy satellite by US warships has now burnt up.

Reuters reports that Rear Admiral Alan Hicks, head of the ship-mounted element of the US ballistic-missile defence programme, made the remarks at a conference in Washington.

"There's very little left up there of any size," said Hicks. "We're down to where there are very very small particles that will burn off as they come down in the atmosphere."

The admiral said the Pentagon was not aware of any part of the crippled surveillance spacecraft coming down intact. The intercept shot was performed by using an SM-3 missile to lob a "kill vehicle" into the path of the satellite as it hurtled above the Pacific.

At an orbital speed of several miles per second, the tumbling sat was smashed to pieces by the impact. It seems that even the missile defence people were surprised at how thorough the pulverisation was.

"We thought there would be much larger pieces," said Hicks.

The SM-3 was designed to knock out ballistic missile warheads, and the admiral said that this would remain its purpose. The US has repeatedly said that it has no current ambitions towards a capability for attacking spacecraft.

Speaking of the intercept mission, in which US government resources from many departments were used to achieve the rendezvous of satellite and kill warhead, the admiral said:

"When you bring them together ... you can get a lot more value."

The cost of the satellite remains a secret, as does the precise nature of its mission and payload. ®

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