An attempt to blast a crippled U.S. spy satellite out of the sky using a Navy heat-seeking missile — possibly on Wednesday night — would be the first real-world use of this piece of the Pentagon's missile defense network. But that is not the mission for which it was intended.
The attempted shootdown, already approved by President Bush, is seen by some as blurring the lines between defending against a weapon like a long-range missile and targeting satellites in orbit.
The three-stage Navy missile, designated the SM-3, has chalked up a high rate of success in a series of tests since 2002 — in each case targeting a short- or medium-range ballistic missile, never a satellite. A hurry-up program to adapt the missile for this anti-satellite mission was completed in a matter of weeks; Navy officials say the changes will be reversed once this satellite is down.