The ASM-135A anti-satellite missile (ASAT) was the only U.S. air-launched missile ever to destroy a satellite. In the late 1970s, the U.S. anticipated Soviet development of “killer satellites” that could destroy vital U.S. reconnaissance and communication satellites. The anti-satellite missile countered this threat. Airborne tests with “captive” (not launched) ASAT missiles on modified F-15 fighters began in 1982.
In September 1985, an ASM-135A destroyed a real satellite in a pre-planned test. An F-15A launched the missile at 38,100 feet. Streaking into space, the missile homed in on the U.S. Solwind P78-1 satellite at 345 miles above the Earth, and impacted the one-ton spacecraft at about 15,000 mph.
The Solwind solar observation satellite was operational but several of its instruments had failed. This, along with other political and technical factors, led to its selection as a target for the ASM-135A. This test was the first and only time a U.S. missile destroyed a satellite.
Two solid-rocket stages propelled the missile into space, and a “miniature homing vehicle” (MHV) locked onto the satellite’s infrared image with a telescopic seeker. The MHV spun rapidly for stability and corrected its course with 63 small rocket motors.
Political and public concern about the Cold War arms race extending into space affected the program along with budget and development issues. The U.S. Air Force terminated the ASAT program in 1988. The missile on display is a captive version of the ASM-135A, designated CASM-135A.
Launch: From F-15A aircraft at 38,100 feet
Target altitude: Approx. 350 miles (low earth orbit)
Maximum speed: 15,000 mph
Guidance: Infrared heat seeking
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