Mumbai: The United States will shoot down a disabled spy satellite after the space shuttle Atlantis ends its current mission, US military sources said.
The US Navy would try to shoot down the satellite before it enters the atmosphere, using a modified tactical missile from a ship in the Pacific, to avert a potentially leak of deadly toxic gas from its fuel tank, the Pentagon said.
"The window will open when the shuttle is on the ground," said Army Lt. General Carter Ham, director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Staff.
The space shuttle is scheduled to land on Wednesday at 9:06 a.m EST at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
While the Pentagon has the opportunity to shoot down the satellite until early March, some space experts have flayed the decision to shoot down the satellite, saying the risks of gas leak from the satellite are remote.
Critics see the move to shoot down the satellite as a way to test US ability to hit other states' satellites. US officials, however, deny this.
Neither the US nor Russia have conducted an anti-satellite operation since the 1980s. Washington had also criticised China for shooting down an old weather satellite in January 2007.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US operation was "quite different" from China's test.
He said the operation was not a statement of US intentions about international arms treaties or anti-satellite weapons.
While China's operation was designed as a test against a satellite and left a large amount of debris in orbit the Pentagon's mission would be "to try to protect populations on the ground" and take place when the satellite is about 155 miles from earth, he said.