Randall Peters, Ph.D., chair of the Physics Department in the College of Liberal Arts, helped shed light on the quest by the United States Navy to shoot down an ailing spy satellite before the Navy destroyed the satellite on Feb. 21. He spent much of the day of the shootdown recounting for the media his experiences with a similar program for the United States Department of Defense in the 1980s.
Peters was interviewed on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s statewide news radio program “Georgia Gazette,” and The Telegraph in Macon featured him on the front page in a story about the satellite takedown. He also spoke with a number of other members of the Georgia media. Peters, who has been teaching physics at Mercer for 10 years, spent much of the 1980s working with the Department of Defense in Star Wars-related programs, including the Anti-Satellite program.
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 successful deployment of anti-satellite technology by the United States. Since he was a part of Star Wars’ Anti-Satellite Program at the time of mission, Peters shared with the media insights on the declassified phases of his mission and shed light on the basics of the technology that the Navy planned to use to kill the debilitated spy satellite in a shrinking orbit of the planet.
President George W. Bush ordered the Navy to launch a missile to down a satellite that was from orbit due to a malfunction. The missile that destroyed the satellite likely carried a miniature vehicle similar to the one Peters worked on in the 1980s. The vehicle detached from the missile and placed itself in the path of the satellite, resulting in a high velocity impact. The impact destroyed the satellite and dispersed its toxic fuel load before it could reach 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 ordered the sensitive spy satellite destroyed before it falls back to earth.