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‘Star Wars’ Satellites Orbited By Delta Rocket

September 6, 1986

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Two ″Star Wars″ satellites tracked a rising rocket and then destroyed each other in a deliberate collision Friday after being propelled into orbit by a Delta rocket.

The success of the launch brought cheer to a battered U.S. space program.

The $150 million exercise was a major test of President Reagan’s proposed missile defense system. The Strategic Defense Initiative Office, which had placed a lid of secrecy over the operation before launch, called it a complete success.

The Delta, the first big American space rocket launched since all were grounded by a series of failures, blasted off at 11:08 a.m. and shot the payloads into a 255-mile-high orbit after a secret countdown.

Lt. Col. Terry Monrad, a SDIO spokesman, said the two payloads ″used a variety of sensors to conduct observations during maneuvers from a variety of viewpoints.″

After the payloads had tracked each other in a kind of orbital ballet for about four hours, he said, ″they pointed at each other so that data on close- in approach could be obtained.″

He said the two zeroed in on each other, collided and both were destroyed. ″After 72 hours, 90 percent of the debris from the vehicles will have harmlessly re-entered the atmosphere,″ he said.

Monrad said the collision was a key test of kinetic energy technology, in which onea projectile is hurled at another at great speed, demolishing the target.

SDIO, which manages the missile defense program popularly known as Star Wars, reported that within two hours after the Delta lifted off, an Aries rocket was launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in connection with the test.

Asked if one or both the satellites tracked the rocket, Monrad replied, ″I think you can draw your own conclusion.″

Objectives of the test were for the satellites to obtain spectral data on each other with infrared sensors and to test guidance, navigation and truster systems used in the maneuvering.

One element of Reagan’s defense system, which is known popularly as Star Wars, envisions scores of orbiting satellites equipped with lasers, kinetic energy devices and other anti-missile measures.

The SDIO said the test did not violate terms of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty nor was the exercise an anti-satellite test.

″This is a much happier occasion than the last time we met,″ Delta launch director Charles Gay told reporters, referring to a Delta failure in May.

″I think this success was very significant,″ he said. ″The agency needed it, we needed it for morale purposes and the country needed it because we’ve had a string of failures.″

The Delta performance was good news to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which has had a string of three space rocket failures since the space shuttle Challenger exploded and killed its crew of seven Jan. 28.

One of the failures was a Delta which lost first stage thrust and went out of control on May 3, destroying a $57.5 million weather satellite. The others were Nike Orion and Aries rockets carrying scientific packages on suborbital flights.

An Air Force Titan 34D hoisting a military spy satellite exploded in April, and a Minuteman 3 ballistic missile failed last month.

The space shuttle and the Delta, Titan 34D and Atlas-Centaur rockets were grounded, the latter because it has an electrical system similar to that blamed for the Delta failure.

The Atlas-Centaur is expected to fly again in November and the Titan 34D early in 1987. The shuttle won’t return to space until 1988.

The United States has recorded only two space launch successes this year. They were a flight by space shuttle Columbia in January and the launch of a military satellite by a single-stage Atlas in February.

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