Press Release

Missile Defense Agency GMD Flight Test Scheduled

By SpaceRef Editor
December 9, 2002
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The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will conduct a developmental flight test to include the planned intercept of a long-range ballistic missile target in support of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system developmental test program on December 11, 2002. The planned flight test launch window is scheduled for 3:01 a.m. to 7:01 a.m. EST. This will be the first GMD intercept test that will involve the launch of the interceptor missile at night. The preceding four flight tests were successes, which has allowed MDA to assume greater risk by accelerating flight test objectives by as much as two years while flying against a more difficult target complex.

The test will involve the launch of an Orbital Suborbital Program (OSP) long-range missile from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The OSP, a modified Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile, will carry a mock warhead and decoys. About 20 minutes after the target missile is launched, and about 4,800 miles away, a Payload Launch Vehicle missile carrying an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) interceptor will launch from the Ronald Reagan Missile Test Facility at Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Within 10 minutes after the launch, the intercept is expected to take place at an altitude of approximately 140 miles above the central Pacific Ocean during the midcourse phase of the target warheadís flight.

This will be an integrated system test, with all representative system elements participating: Space-based missile warning sensor; ground-based early warning radar, the prototype X-Band radar at Kwajalein Atoll and the battle management, command, control and communications system located at Kwajalein Atoll and the Joint National Integration Facility in Colorado Springs, Colo. Since the system is in its research and development phase, these elements serve as either prototypes or surrogates for system elements which are in the developmental stage and have not yet been produced for actual operational use.

A U.S. Navy Aegis cruiser, USS LAKE ERIE, will participate in the test, using its SPY-1 radar to track the target missile. While the cruiserís radar will not take part in directing the interceptor to its target, the data gathered will be used to ascertain the potential role the SPY-1 radar and the Aegis weapon system could play against ballistic missile targets, as well as provide preparation for Aegis tracking support to GMD as part of the ballistic missile defense system Pacific Ocean test bed and a potential future operational system.

This flight test will also involve for the first time a developmental radar that is representative of the radar currently used for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. The TPS-X Radar is a high-resolution, X-band phased array radar, originally developed during the program definition and risk reduction phase of the THAAD program. It has been configured as an instrumentation sensor, and will be located at Vandenberg AFB, where it will observe the initial phases of the IFT-10 flight to collect data to investigate the radar’s potential to support a ballistic missile defense system.

Also for the first time, the Airborne Laser prototype, a modified Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft now being developed to use a series of chemical lasers to shoot down a ballistic missile soon after it is launched, will participate in the flight test. Although no lasers are yet installed on the aircraft, the ABL will use its on-board sensors to locate and track the boosting target missile during the first minutes of its flight in order to test the capabilities of the sensors. As with the Aegis cruiser, neither the THAAD radar or the ABL will direct the interceptor to the target, but will collect data to assess their potential contribution to a layered and integrated missile defense system.

This will be the eighth intercept test of the GMD research and development program. The first test on October 3, 1999 resulted in the successful intercept of a ballistic missile target. The second test took place on January 19, 2000 and did not achieve an intercept due to a clogged cooling pipe on the EKV, but did successfully test the integrated system of elements. The third test, on July 8, 2000, did not result in an intercept due an unsuccessful separation of the EKV from the booster rocket. The fourth test, on July 14, 2001, achieved a successful intercept of a ballistic missile target, as did tests on December 3, 2001 and March 15, 2002. The successful test on October 14, 2002 included the use of a ship-based SPY-1 radar for the first time to track a long-range target missile. The last four tests used all GMD system elements as part of an integrated flight test.

News media point of contact is Lt. Col. Rick Lehner, MDA Communications, at (703) 697-8997 or Cheryl Irwin, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) at (703) 697-5331.

SpaceRef staff editor.