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A missile defense test set for Tuesday is scheduled to be the last launch of 2010 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, and a repeat of the year’s first blastoff.

The $120 million test is expected to occur between 8 a.m. and noon Tuesday, when a target missile will fly from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Central Pacific Ocean.

A short time later, an interceptor missile, carrying the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, should pop out of its underground silo on north Vandenberg Air Force Base.

That’s similar to a Jan. 31 intercept test for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense segment that ended in failure when a Sea-Based X-Band radar malfunctioned.

“It is generally the same scenario with generally the same objectives,” said Richard Lehner, Missile Defense Agency spokesman.

The current test’s goal is to exercise the GMD system over an increased distance — about 4,200 miles — versus the shorter flight path between Kodiak, Alaska, and Vandenberg.

Tests are designed to exercise the system against a “threat-representative” ballistic missile target, Lehner added.

The Jan. 31 test, which coincidentally was the first of 10 for 2010 from Vandenberg, also involved an interceptor that launched from Vandenberg toward a target that blasted off from the Kwajalein Atoll.

While the intercept didn’t happen due to a snafu involving the sea-based radar, they still collected some valuable data, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, Missile Defense Agency director, told a congressional subcommittee April 15.

“We discovered new failure modes for the SBX (sea-based radar), the EKV flew more than twice the distance it had flown in previous tests, and we collected significant new data on the EKV’s ability to acquire, track, and discriminate the target,” O’Reilly said, adding that he intended to repeat the test scenario.

The powerful radar that is designed to detect, acquire and track targets provides the data necessary for the complex Ground-based Midcourse Defense segment. It’s one of several key elements that make up the system.

The sea-based radar — it looks like a huge golf ball sitting on an old oil platform in the ocean —  was designed as the “sole tracking sensor responsible for data” during the engagement between the target and interceptor. The radar was suppose to deliver the critical data to other parts of the system.

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