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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clouds, Software Put U.S. Plan To Fire Laser at Satellite on Hold

WASHINGTON -- Bad weather and faulty software have derailed a Pentagon plan to strike a satellite with a powerful ground-based laser, probably ending a controversial program that arms-control advocates feared might set off a new space arms race.


Pentagon officials said the experiment -- which would have been the first test of a laser's satellite-killing capabilities -- was postponed Saturday because of a software glitch, and again Monday night because of obstructive cloud cover. Now they say it is unlikely that the experiment will ever be conducted.


"It's quite an anticlimax, to say the least,'' said Steven Aftergood, a researcher at the Federation of American Scientists.


Based at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the so-called Miracl laser, the nation's biggest, was to send a two-meter-wide beam of energy at a satellite orbiting above the Earth. But the test will work only if the satellite is directly overhead, and now the craft is in the wrong position in orbit.


Moreover, the satellite is losing the power it would need to record and transmit data on the experiment, officials said. And it is entering a period when it will spend more time in the Earth's shadow and won't be able to collect solar energy to replenish its reserves.


Defense officials have said that the satellite was near the end of its useful life, although the craft's manufacturer has disputed this.


Pentagon officials said they have no plans to try the experiment on another satellite.


"Right now there is nothing else scheduled,'' said Navy Captain Michael Doubleday, a Pentagon spokesman.


Amid a boom in commercial spy satellites, critics have warned of an international race for weapons to knock out the satellites that can detect the position of troops and weapons in wartime.


Pentagon officials have sought to stress that the test was not intended to develop an offensive weapon, but to collect data to identify the vulnerabilities of satellites.