Self Cleansing

The US military now believes that all—yes, all—debris created in space from last month’s successful intercept of a non-functioning, deorbiting intelligence satellite will re-enter the atmosphere “in about the next 60 to 90 days,” Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of US Strategic Command, said yesterday. Speaking to defense reporters in Washington, DC, Chilton said the new assessment is “more optimistic actually” than earlier predictions that indicated that “it might take six months to a year” for all remnants of the school-bus-sized satellite to come down to Earth. US defense officials have previously stated that the pieces of debris left in the lower echelons of space were no larger than the size of a football after the pulverizing collision Feb. 20 between the doomed satellite and a modified ship-launched anti-missile missile about 130 nautical miles up over the Pacific Ocean. Most, if not all, of these pieces are expected to burn up on re-entry. Chilton said the intercept was truly a “great team effort” across the Department of Defense and the US Government and an impressive achievement in going from concept to execution in only about six weeks. The intercept destroyed the satellite’s tank of toxic hydrazine fuel and dissipated the fuel so it could not pose a threat to humans when it returned to Earth, US defense official have said. Chilton also refuted those who accuse the United States of using the satellite shot as a back door opportunity to field a new anti-satellite capability. “We were very transparent about why we made the modifications and we are not intending to keep those systems modified, but we are returning them to their original configuration and we are going to be using them for their original intent,” he said. “So I would just say they are wrong.”