The US Army successfully tested the TRW-built Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL) at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on 17 October.

During two firings, lasting about 1s and 10s respectively, the 2m- wide laser beam was aimed at the infra-red camera aboard a US Air Force satellite.

The $60 million Miniature Sensor Technology Integration, MISTI 3 satellite, in orbit 416km overhead, was "illuminated", but not destroyed in the demonstration. The laser was built originally for the Strategic Defense Initiative programme in the 1980s. A full-power and longer burst from the laser would have destroyed the craft.

The MIRACL test - the first to be aimed at a target in space, but not the first MIRACL firing - was a demonstration of a potential space weapon, but also an illustration that another nation could use such a device to disarm or destroy US reconnaissance and other types of military satellite. It also provided data on the vulnerability of US satellites in orbit.

The US Department of Defense, which claims that the test was of a defensive nature, believes that over 30 nations have the basic capability to develop such a device.

Source: Flight International