Weeks after an initial failure, the Army successfully fired a laser at a U.S. satellite in an experiment designed to test the vulnerability of satellites to enemy attack, the Pentagon said Monday.
The experiment took place Friday evening at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. It involved the Army’s hulking “MIRACL” laser, an acronym for the 1980s-vintage Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser.
Neither the Air Force satellite nor the target point on the satellite were damaged or disabled in the two test firings, one lasting less than one second, the other less than 10 seconds.
Air Force Maj. Bob Potter, a Pentagon spokesman, said this time the laser did hit its target point, a medium-range infrared camera.
The test marks the first time the United States has fired a high-powered laser at a satellite in orbit. The Russian government, which was informed of the test, has previously expressed concerns about the testing as constituting a potential threat to Russian satellites.
Built by TRW, the laser is an offshoot of the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative. It has been fired into space many times, but never at a satellite. The laser, built on a swiveling platform, generates its energy from chemicals. The beam is invisible to the naked eye, but the laser device sends off a plume of flame and smoke, much like a missile launching .
The Pentagon had gone out of its way to stress the defensive nature of the test, but critics say the experiment would be seen by other nations, including some hostile to American interests, as an invitation to develop their own anti-satellite lasers.