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Military declares satellite shootdown a success
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satellite shootdown

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WASHINGTON Based on debris analysis, officials are confident the Feb. 21 missile intercept and destruction of a nonfunctioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite was successful in destroying the fuel tank and reducing risk to people on Earth, the Defense Department announced Monday.

The satellite's fuel tank contained hydrazine, a hazardous chemical that could have posed a risk to humans if the satellite or its fuel tank had reentered the atmosphere intact.

"By all accounts, this was a successful mission. From the debris analysis, we have a high degree of confidence the satellite's fuel tank was destroyed and the hydrazine has been dissipated," Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a DoD news release.

A single modified tactical Standard Missile-3 was fired from the USS Lake Erie to engage the satellite. Much of the debris from the satellite already has reentered the Earth's atmosphere or will reenter in the coming days and weeks, officials said. The Joint Functional Component Command for Space at the Joint Space Operations Center, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., is tracking less than 3,000 pieces of debris, all smaller than a football, which have not yet reentered the atmosphere. To date, there have been no reports of debris landing on Earth, and it is unlikely any will remain intact to hit the ground, officials said.

Cartwright praised the collaborative effort from the U.S. government, armed forces, industry and academia to destroy the satellite and reduce risk to human life.

"The teamwork and interagency accomplishment associated with this operation was tremendous," 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, particularly the Pacific Fleet, 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."

U.S. Strategic Command space surveillance sensors continue to track and characterize the debris to ensure timely notifications are made, if necessary, with regard to debris-related risk on the ground or to objects in orbit, officials said.

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