| ORLANDO, Fla.
ORLANDO, Fla. Feb 27 No debris remains in
space from the U.S. destruction a year ago of an errant spy
satellite loaded with toxic hydrazine fuel, the head of the
Pentagon's Strategic Command said.
By contrast, some of the debris caused when China used a
ground-based ballistic missile to destroy one of its defunct
weather satellites will stay in orbit for another 80 or 90
years, said Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, the command's chief.
"Every bit of debris created by that (U.S.) intercept has
de-orbited," Chilton told a symposium on air warfare hosted by
the U.S. Air Force Association in Orlando, Florida, on
The U.S. military used a ship-launched Raytheon Co (RTN.N)
Standard Missile-3 missile to destroy a crippled National
Reconnaissance Office satellite on Feb. 20, 2008. It was shot
apart at an altitude of about 130 miles.
The intercept was interpreted by many analysts as a
demonstration of U.S. capabilities in response to a Chinese
anti-satellite test a year earlier. The Chinese satellite had
been in polar orbit at an altitude of about 537 miles. Since it
was higher up, it will take longer for the debris to re-enter
the earth's atmosphere.
Space junk is a threat to the 800 or so commercial and
military satellites estimated to be operating in space as well
as to the International Space Station.
The Strategic Command, which coordinates U.S. military
operations in space, said it is now tracking about 2,200 pieces
of orbiting junk created by the Chinese anti-satellite
demonstration in January 2007
Chilton, in a followup session with reporters, said the
last bits of debris from the U.S. intercept, which he said had
been codenamed Burnt Frost, de-orbited as early as last July or
On Feb. 25, 2008, the U.S. Defense Department said a space
operations center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, had
been tracking fewer than 3,000 pieces of debris from the U.S.
intercept, all smaller than a football.
After the U.S. operation, the Pentagon said there had been
no reports of debris landing on Earth and it was unlikely any
would remain intact after re-entering the atmosphere.
Chilton said the orbiting debris problem had worsened, with
some 18,000 bits now being tracked by the United States. On
Feb. 10, a dead Russian military communications satellite
collided with a commercial U.S. satellite that was part of the
Iridium global communications network.
This collision highlighted a need for more investment in
sensors that could help keep track of debris and improve U.S.
"space situational awareness," he said.
(Editing by Dave Zimmerman)