Mercer Physics Professor Sheds Light on Anti-Satellite Technology

February 19, 2008

Mark Vanderhoek
(478) 301-4037

WHAT:     Randall Peters, Ph.D., chair of Mercer University's Physics Department, offers a unique angle in the story on the new quest by the United States Navy to shoot down an ailing spy satellite before it plunges to earth. Peters was part of team of engineers and scientists that worked on a similar project in 1985, which was part of President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program. On Sept. 13, 1985, a United States Air Force fighter jet screamed into the sky, releasing a missile tipped with a miniature vehicle, helping to propel that vehicle into the path of an aging solar-monitoring satellite, the collision turned the satellite into debris. The result was the first, and only, successful deployment of anti-satellite technology by the United States. Peters was a part of Star Wars’ Anti-Satellite Program at the time of mission, and he can share insights on the declassified phases of his mission and shed light on the basics of the technology that will be used by the Navy to kill the debilitated spy satellite in a shrinking orbit of the planet.

WHO:     Peters, who has been teaching physics at Mercer for 10 years, spent much of the 1980s working with the Defense Department in Star Wars-related programs, including the Anti-Satellite program.

WHEN:     To arrange an in-person or phone interview with Peters, contact Mark Vanderhoek at (478) 301-4037 or (800) 837-2911, ext. 4037.

WHY:     President Bush has ordered the Navy to launch a missile to down a satellite that is currently falling from orbit due to a malfunction. The missile that will be used to destroy the satellite will likely carry a miniature vehicle similar to the one Peters worked on in the 1980s.  The vehicle will detach from the missile and place itself in the path of the satellite, resulting in a high velocity impact. The impact will destroy the satellite and disperse its toxic fuel load before it reaches the ground. According to CNN.com, the satellite, launched in 2006, immediately began to malfunction, and because of that has nearly its full payload of 1,000 gallons of hydrazine propellant on board, which is potentially toxic. Citing this danger, the President has ordered the sensitive spy satellite destroyed before it falls back to earth. Once the astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station are safely back on earth, the operation will commence, likely this week.

Contact Mark Vanderhoek, director of University Relations, for an interview with Dr. Peters at (478) 301-4037 or (800) 837-2911, ext. 4037.

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