U.S. Fires Laser at Satellite
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Just after dusk in the New Mexican desert, a high-powered Army laser trained its invisible beam on a U.S. satellite as it emerged from over the horizon to the north.
With a burst of flame and smoke, the hulking device generated a beam that shot up through the atmosphere at the small satellite 260 miles above the earth. The test, conducted Friday at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and announced Monday at the Pentagon, went off successfully, pointing to a possible new direction in warfare.
Weeks after an initial failure, the Pentagon announced, the Army successfully fired its ``Miracl'' laser, an acronym for the 1980s-vintage Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser, at an aging Air Force satellite.
Neither the satellite nor its target point -- an infrared camera -- was damaged or disabled in the several test firings lasting less than five seconds each. But the Pentagon views the test as concrete proof of a long-held concern: that its own satellites, as well as intelligence, civilian or commercial satellites, are vulnerable to laser weapons.

Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Potter, a Pentagon spokesman, said the laser hit the target camera, which recorded data now being evaluated at White Sands. Had the laser been turned up to full power or trained on its target longer, it could have destroyed the satellite. But the point of the test was to show that lower-intensity lasers may be able to disable the information-gathering equipment, such as infrared sensors, mounted on U.S. military satellites.
As many as 30 nations may already be able to use low-power lasers to blind the sensors on satellites used by the U.S. military to monitor potentially hostile countries.
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, had previously expressed concerns about the testing as 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, Potter said. 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.
In 1985 Congress explicitly prohibited the laser test, but the Republican-controlled Congress allowed the ban to expire two years ago and enthusiastically supported the laser testing.
Anticipating criticism from opponents of the test, the Pentagon has gone out of its way to stress the defensive nature. 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.

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