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Two U.S. ASAT targets join the fray.

Two special target satellites launched by the Air Force on Dec. 12 were just in time to become embroiled in controversy about plans for future U.S. antisatellite (ASAT) testing. They were also late -- six months behind their original schedule -- a delay that had led in September to the destruction of a working scientific satellite that was on the job at the time.

Called ITVs, or Instrumented Test Vehicles, the inflatable devices were to have been orbited in June as ASAT targets, but were delayed by "technical problems." When President Reagan and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger elected to proceed with an ASAT test prior to the President's November summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, an alternative target was selected. The replacement turned out to be the Air Force's P78-1 research satellite, whose instruments included a white-light corornagraph that had been studying the sum since 1979 (SN: 9/28/85, p. 197). A still-operational satellite was required, Pentagon officials said (though they did not detail reasons for the specific choice of P78-1), in order to "verify impact" of the aircraft-launched ASAT missile that did the deed.

The juse-orbited ITV satellites, however, face another kind of adversary as well. As proposed moratorium on U.S. ASAT tests would ban the tests until next Oct. 1 unless the Soviet Union resumes testing its own ASAT system. The moratorium was being debated by congressional conferees at press time as an amendment to a Defense Department appropriations bill. If adopted, said Weinberger, the ban "in effect gives the Soviets life-or-death veto power over a vital U.S. defense program." Horse-trading over the complex appropriations bill left the outcome uncertain.
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Title Annotation:antisatellite testing
Author:Eberhart, Jonathan
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 21, 1985
Words:276
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