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Laser Hits Orbiting Satellite in Beam Test
by Frank Sietzen "SpaceCast News Service"
Washington DC - October 20, 1997 - For the first time in the history of military weaponry, a laser beam has been fired at and has struck a satellite in orbital flight around the earth. SpaceCast learned late Sunday that the U.S. Army MIRCL laser at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico was fired at the Air Force MSTI-3 research satellite as it passed over the darkened New Mexico desert before dawn on Saturday, sources reported early Monday. Two bursts from the chemical laser struck a sensor array on the MSTI-3 craft, according to military sources. One burst was an initial one second firing to calibrate the laser's location on the satellite's body. The second beam was a 10 second burst, which triggered the sensors and relayed data back to the ground tracking and monitoring stations that MIRCL had successfully tracked and hit the target.

Following decades of science fiction stories in which laser-based space weapons destroyed spaceships and rockets, the Saturday test marked the first step towards development of laser systems that could one day destroy rising missiles in flight or blind the optical sensors of satellites in space. U.S. Army officials called the laser test a research experiment, not a step towards a space weapon, noting that the laser was a ground-based system that required massive jet engine-sized turbines to create enough power to drive the laser light. The MIRCL laser had been designed and built more than a decade ago to demonstrate laser technology that could evolve towards anti-missile weapons. The device had never before been used to strike an object in space.

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