The first test of a U.S. anti-satellite weapon against a physical target in space has been delayed indefinitely because technical difficulties forced postponement of the target launching, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
Until the cause of the problem is found, Air Force officials said they will be unable to estimate when the test might be rescheduled. But John Pike, an official of the Federation of American Scientists, which opposes development of the ASAT weapon, estimated that the flight could be delayed by three months or more.
Two of the 12 test flights planned by the Air Force for the controversial weapon already have been conducted, but they were aimed at a point in space, not a physical target. The third test, in which the weapon was to have been fired at one of two six-foot-diameter target balloons in orbit, had been rescheduled several times this year--apparently for technical reasons--before being set for July.
Three Flights Approved
The House voted last week to block funds for ASAT tests in fiscal 1986. A similar vote was taken last year, but, in the end, Congress approved three test flights during this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The ASAT weapon is a two-stage rocket that has a heat-sensing homing vehicle in its nose. The weapon, which would be launched from beneath an F-15 fighter jet that soars high into the atmosphere, would intercept and destroy its target on impact. The Reagan Administration believes that an American ASAT system is needed to match the Soviet Union's comparable weapon, which has been operational for more than a decade.
Proponents note that the Soviets showed interest in banning ASAT weapons only after the United States decided to begin developing its own.
Ban on Tests Sought
However, opponents point out that the Soviet weapon threatens only low-altitude satellites and is only marginally effective. They argue that Washington and Moscow should agree to ban all tests of ASAT weapons, rather than allow the United States to develop its own system.
A technical difficulty in the radio link between the target payload and ground control aborted the June 22 launch of a Scout missile that was to have carried the balloons into orbit, Pike said. Another attempt to launch the targets will not be made for three to four months, with a similar delay in the scheduled test of the weapon itself, he said.