DoD News Briefing

Thursday, October 9, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA


Let me bring you up to date first on MIRACL.

As you know, two opportunities to test that laser were missed last week. The Secretary has asked the Army to continue to look for opportunities to test that laser before the target satellite goes into eclipse later this month. So there should be several other opportunities and they will try to perform that test before it goes into eclipse on the 23rd of October.

Q: In layperson terms, what does it mean to go into eclipse?

A: Basically, I can only give you a layperson's answer because I'm not an expert on satellites. But the satellite is in an elliptical polar orbit. It goes over the poles. As the earth tilts, as we get toward the shortest day of the year -- December 21st or 22nd -- it spends less and less time in sunlight. It requires sunlight to recharge its batteries with solar panels on the satellite.

The Air Force says that the batteries are losing power and before the batteries lose power entirely, the Air Force has to put the satellite into sort of its final orbit -- the orbit from which it will ultimately come into the atmosphere and disintegrate. It has to be located in the right place to do that. They need enough battery power to be able to do it. So they need to make these adjustments before it gets too dark, before it spends too much time in darkness. That's what limits the amount of time available to perform these tests.

There are a lot of other complexities about the angle at which it appears in the sky and the time of night, because these tests are done at night, etc. But in the short term, there's a race between the battery life and the angle of the earth.

Q: When's the last possible date?

A: The 23rd is when the Air Force believes this satellite will go into eclipse, so it has to be done sometime before October 23rd.

Q: Have you got any guesses on the next 14 days when...

A: Given the record so far, I think it's better for everybody to stay away from guessing on dates. I certainly am going to strive to stay away from guessing on dates.