Department of Defense and U.S. Navy officials were cheering after a modified Standard SM-3 missile from the Aegis cruiser Lake Erie (CG-70) shot down a disabled American spy satellite. The published reason for the feat-believed to be the second time that a missile launched from the surface of the earth has shot down a space object-was to destroy the satellite's dangerous hydrazine fuel tank.
The first such event probably occurred in January 2007, when the Chinese employed an SC-19 ballistic missile to fire directly at and destroy an outdated Feng-Yun-1C weather satellite 527 miles above the earth. Two previous anti-satellite (ASAT) attempts by China may have been intentional misses for test purposes. At the time of those earlier missile launches the U.S. intelligence community reportedly believed that China was close to proving the ability to hit an orbiting satellite; still, some U.S. officials were taken by surprise when the ASAT capability was demonstrated, creating a massive field of space debris.