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Pentagon: Missile Scored Direct Hit on Satellite

A handout image provided by the U.S. Navy shows the USS Lake Erie launching a Standard Missile-3 at a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph over the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 20, 2008.
U.S. Navy/Getty Images
A handout image provided by the U.S. Navy shows the USS Lake Erie launching a Standard Missile-3 at a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph over the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 20, 2008.

The U.S. Navy said Thursday it was tracking debris from a spy satellite it destroyed using a missile fired from an American warship.

The White House ordered the satellite's destruction due to concerns that its onboard fuel supply could pose a toxic hazard if the craft re-entered over a populated area.

The interceptor missile was launched from the Aegis-class cruiser USS Lake Erie off Hawaii at 10:30 p.m. EST. Two other ships, the USS Decatur and USS Russell, were also part of the task force.

The general said the pattern of the satellite's destruction and a spectral analysis indicate the missile hit its target.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an expert on military space technologies, said that officials have a "high degree of confidence" that the missile struck its target: the satellite's fuel tank, containing 1,000 pounds of toxic hydrazine.

He said the Pentagon was tracking debris from the satellite and had only seen "football" sized chunks, most of which were burning up before reaching the ground.

The interception came nearly one year after the United States sharply criticized China for carrying out a similar test mission. In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said his nation was "closely monitoring" the test and its aftermath.

He called on Washington to "strictly abide by its international obligations and quickly provide any information or data that would help other countries to take protective measures."

The classified spy satellite malfunctioned soon after reaching orbit in December 2006. It was due to fall to earth sometime this week.

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